If you read my blogs on a regular basis, you know I missed last week. I really intended to get something to the Maryville Daily Forum.
I think I have a good excuse. I spent the last 12 days in Honolulu. My son, Sam, and grandson, Jacob, came out for part of the time. They traveled with the Northwest Missouri State men's basketball team.
I know what you think, "Yeh, right, that looks like real hard work." True, it is in the state described as "paradise." It's also true the hotel is 1.5 blocks from Waikiki Beach and the temperature never dropped below 70 degrees. They don't even list a wind chill index.
It wasn't all beach and fun for me, though. Eleven teams played 12 total basketball games over a seven day span. We had to pack up and move to different gyms three times. I had to make sure everyone had a ride from the airport, no one was lost on the rooming list, and everyone knew when the buses left for the game.
The greatest thing about my new business is the variety of people I meet. I have been fortunate to visit Hawaii many times, but I never ran into Alex until this December. Alex is 89 years old. He is from Pittsburgh, although he claims he hates the Steelers football team. A couple of years ago, he almost died from head injuries sustained in a fall, but you would never know it today.
Most importantly, Alex is a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 71 years ago this December 7. He now spends almost two months at a time staying at the Ohana East Hotel, the resident for the basketball teams and fans.
On some days, he will be sitting on a chair provided by the bell captains right in front of the hotel. Other days, he disappears during most of the daylight hours.
He is always is dressed in a Hawaiian-style shirt and proudly wears his American Legion Garrison cap which is covered with military pins. I was curious, so I asked Raymond, one of the bell captains, about Alex.
Raymond told me he stays free at the hotel and a near-by Denny's gives him complimentary meals.
When he disappears during the day, he goes to Pearl Harbor. He sits in the gift shop and signs a book that tells the story of the Japanese attach.
Alex is not one of those guys who is just an old guy looking for attention. He doesn't bother anyone unless someone stops to talk. I nodded at him during most of the 12 days I spent at the Ohana East Hotel. On one of my final days, the bell captain found me a chair so I could sit by Alex. He told me his story of survival 71 years ago. I will never forget it.
I can't promise I will get a all details correct. I didn't take notes. Alex's job was to work at the stables at Wheeler Airbase, taking care of the military mules. The mules were used to haul loads of early warning equipment to the mountains on Oahu.
That fateful Sunday morning, December 7, 1941; Alex was up early cleaning out the stables. He saw planes coming over the airbase so low he thought for a moment they might collide with the stables.
Unaware it was the Japanese, Alex waved at the airmen. The planes were flying so low, Alex could see the Japanese pilots waving back.
The enemy had a bigger target in mind on the first wave of attacks. That wave would bomb the war ships in Pearl Harbor killing over 2,400 men. At first, Alex thought the stables and his infantry unit had avoided the disastrous b0mbing. He was wrong.
A second wave hit with bombs and strafing and Alex dove under the mule's water trough. That quick thinking saved his life. Alex told me if he hadn't found immediate cover, the staffing would have found and killed him. He saw many of his fellow soldiers die during the second wave of attacks.
Alex was then ordered to take his mules to the water front. As dead sailors were pulled from the ships, Alex waited with his mules to transport them to a baseball field for identification.
Alex helped build wooden caskets for the sailors. It would be months before medal caskets would arrive and the servicemen who perished shipped home.
Alex has experienced many things in his 89 years. Tom Brokaw interviewed Alex in his series "Greatest Generation." His picture is featured in the book he signs when at the bookstore at Pearl Harbor. There aren't many World War II veterans left.
Alex is a very unusual 89 year old man. He is there to tell his story, but only if someone wants to hear.
He has the respect of everyone who knows him in Hawaii. Alex finished his story by telling me he hoped he didn't live until his 90th birthday in April. I hope he's wrong; there are more people that should to hear his story.
By Gene Steinmeyer Guest Columnist
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Gene Steinmeyer Guest Columnist
Updated Jan. 2, 2013 @ 6:12 pm
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