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Jonesboro seaman barely missed 'day of infamy'

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Walter Taylor was all over the Pacific Ocean as a merchant marine during World War II.

He spent time in New Guinea, Iwo Jima, and the Philippines. The war came to all of these places, and memorials have been built commemorating battles in some of these locations.

There is one place Taylor went in 1941, where he barely missed being part of United States history -- Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

In December of 1941, the ship on which Taylor was stationed spent three days in Pearl Harbor enroute to New Guinea. The ship dropped anchor to pick up supplies before heading back to sea.

"I had just left Pearl Harbor the night before they [the Japanese] hit," said Taylor, who is now 81, and lives in Jonesboro.

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "a day which will live in infamy."

Japanese airplanes bombed the naval fleet, and airfield at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Five of eight American battleships were sunk, while the remaining ships suffered battle damage. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, according to the United States Naval Historical Center's web site.

All of the aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor were out to sea when the attack occurred.

Despite being at Pearl Harbor in the three days before the attack, Taylor couldn't describe much about the area. He spent all but four hours on his ship, and his shore time was spent performing watch duty. It was the first time Taylor had traveled outside of the United States.

Hawaii didn't become a state for another 18 years.

Taylor said the servicemen on his ship didn't find out about the attack until several days after it happened. After the news reached the ship, everyone on board was feeling "pretty blue," Taylor said.

"Everybody was sad, and didn't have much to say," he added. Had his transport ship been in the area, it likely would not have been able to do much -- it was not equipped with extensive battle weapons.

The days following the attack were filled with uncertainty for the men on Taylor's ship. They were at sea, but no one knew where they were going. Their captain wasn't allowed to read his orders until seven days after they left port, under rules of the merchant marines.

Taylor signed up for the merchant marines in 1940, because he was too young to join the Navy. At 14, he was actually underage for the merchant marines, but he still managed to get in. His training took place in St. Petersburg, Fla., before he shipped out to the Pacific Ocean enroute to Pearl Harbor, and New Guinea.

He left the merchant marines after the war ended.

As the years have passed, the feelings he has about Pearl Harbor have softened. He still doesn't like to talk about the experience often.

"It's a lot easier to think about it now, although I wasn't there for the invasion," he said.

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On the net:

Naval Historical Center: http://www.history.navy.mil/