Ken Beaton: Carson City’s Roland Peachee recalls Pearl Harbor attacks
War stories are written about our military killing the enemy. Most readers don’t realize for every aviator, sailor or soldier with his index finger on the trigger of a Colt .45 hand gun or a 16.5-inch naval gun facing the enemy, there are 10 or more support personnel supplying all their needs for victory.
When attacked, naval support personnel report to their battle station. A cook could become one of the four loaders for a quad 40mm Anti Aircraft unit shooting at a Kamikaze pilot with his cross hairs on their ship!
U.S. Navy enlisted men rated ships by their “chow.” A ship with good chow had no problem getting replacements. Ship’s/Cook 1st Class Roland B. Peachee did his part to cook great chow for the crew of the USS Rigel AR-11.
Roland said, “I got tired of using a mule’s rear-end as a compass and decided there had to be something better, so I joined the Navy (in 1934). In 1940 I was assigned to the USS Rigel.”
The brightest star in the Orion constellation is named Rigel. The USS Rigel had a complete machine shop with welders able to weld above or below water. The Rigel “patched up” battle damaged ships so they could proceed to a dry-dock for complete repairs. With extra fuel tanks, the Rigel refueled ships at sea.
Dec. 7, a sleepy Sunday morning in Pearl Harbor, the Rigel was completely defenseless in a dry-docked across the harbor from the USS Nevada in battleship row. The crew was eating breakfast on the dock because the ship’s mess was being retrofitted.
Roland was on the ship’s deck cutting meat for the next meal at 07:55. He was prompted to look up to see a few puffs of smoke followed by several loud explosions in the harbor.
“Thinking it was the Army, I went ahead with my work, and little did I know we were being attacked by the (Japanese). As the (Japanese) planes flew down through the Navy yard bombing and strafing, I would step back under the overhang of my butcher shop and watch them. One plane flew so close; I could see the pilot smile at me. His plane had ‘a red meatball’ on the wing.”
Roland’s only weapon was his meat cleaver.
During the attack, two bombs dropped near the USS Rigel. The first bomb missed the bow and the second splashed harmlessly between the Rigel and a tanker with highly explosive aviation fuel.
“I looked across Pearl Harbor, ships were burning and sinking, dead bodies and injured people were (floating) in the water.”
The Rigel’s crew used their cutting torches to cut through the thinnest armor plate on the underside of the capsized USS Oklahoma near the propeller shaft to free the trapped crew. Without the Rigel’s successful rescue, the death toll, 2,403, would have been several hundred more sailors.
Roland’s Carson City home has a “Pearl Harbor Wall of Fame,” an entire wall with pictures and framed documents including an award signed by President George H.W. Bush. During World War II, Naval Aviator Bush flew a torpedo bomber.
On May 5, 2016, Roland will celebrate his 100th birthday. The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor will be seven months and two days after his birthday. The words “never again” are on Roland’s lips and the lips of every Pearl Harbor survivor. To all the World War II vets, thank you for your service!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.