Pearl Harbor survivor still enjoying Peachee keen life in his 97th year
December 14, 2012
Carson City’s Roland Peachee, a retired butcher, is living a good life that neither bombs nor bullets could cut short during Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was a 25-year-old sailor stationed aboard a U.S. Navy ship undergoing repairs. “He’s just as sharp as a tack,” said Alan Rogers, a friend who refers to Peachee, 96, as a swabby in Hawaii on the date that then-President Roosevelt, in a speech to the nation soon after the attack, termed “a day that will live in infamy.” “Roland served in the U.S. Navy as a ship’s cook first class aboard the USS Rigel, which was at dock in Pearl Harbor for repairs on that fateful day in 1941,” Rogers wrote.Indeed, meeting Peachee shows his memory of that day is clear. Asked if he was scared when the attack began 71 years ago this month, he immediately replied, “I suppose, but I didn’t know enough to be scared. You just flow with the tide.” He said he was at his ship while it was in the harbor for work, and the superstructure was off the ship on a dock. The superstructure, the part above the deck, proved part of his survival. It was not too far when the attack erupted and he was under a butcher shop cover.“I finally realized that butcher shop was just painted canvas, so I got the hell out of there and dived underneath the superstructure because there was metal there,” he said, adding, “The whole thing was a person’s welfare depended on where he was and what time it was.”Bombs and bullets from strafing by Japanese pilots in a multitude of planes kept people in harm’s way, and more than one bomb fell between his ship and a nearby oil tanker, he said. Had one hit the tanker just right, his survival prospects would have dwindled. As it was, shrapnel kept things dangerous.“We were just real lucky that it hit like it did,” he said. Even so, he added, “We lost a few people.”Peachee, an Indiana native, was serving his second hitch in the Navy. He had served as a gunner on the USS Maryland in the late 1930s, left the service, but returned not long before the war broke out.He said he was scared after the attack because of rumors the Japanese were landing and might take control of the island. “It was kind of a bad night because everyone was kind of edgy,” said the veteran.Peachee had just married his first wife on Nov. 24, 1941, and she was in Hawaii during the attack. She was shipped home on Christmas Day that year. “That raised hell with that honeymoon,” he joked.Peachee spent much of the war aboard the USS Rigel, a converted grain ship that was used to repair other ships in the Pacific Ocean after naval battles.He said the ship had a full blacksmith shop and other equipment to make repairs, many of them “jerry-rigged” by using whatever was at hand. For example, he said, a temporary bow was built for another ship using wood from a Pacific island coconut tree.Peachee mustered out in 1944 with what now is called post-traumatic stress disorder. He said it then was labeled anxiety-neurosis and psycho-neurosis. “I could brag about being a psycho,” he said, again showing his sense of humor and good cheer.He spent awhile in Long Beach, Calif., and later moved with his first wife to Susanville, Calif., where he worked as a butcher at a meat market and a grocery store.After his first spouse died decades ago, he and current wife Evelyn married and moved to Carson City. They said they love Northern Nevada and, despite a brief foray back to California, are happy to stay in Carson City. Peachee, retired for years, also has cheated fate by skirting the effects of heart problems. He has had two operations since his late 50s and survived both, though the last one worried a surgeon.“I send him a Christmas card every year,” said Peachee. He and Evelyn are friends with Alan Rogers and his spouse, Bonnie, who contacted the Nevada Appeal about the World War II veteran. “We have been very lucky to get to know Roland and Evelyn, and to have heard some of Roland’s descriptions of his experiences,” they wrote.