Four veterans recall Pearl Harbor attack and lives of service

The memories of these men are intimate links to a time and a place many of us know only from history books. Walter Decker, 83, is from Iowa and lives in Spring Hill. He served in the Navy. Coy Hendricks, 86, is from Georgia and lives in Shady Hills. He served in the Navy. Tom Wagner, 83, is from Michigan and lives in Spring Hill. He served in the Navy. John F. Key, 82, is from Tampa and lives in Spring Hill. He served in the Army. He wears a denim vest. The patch on the back says this: THE NATION WHICH FORGETS ITS DEFENDERS WILL ITSELF BE FORGOTTEN. The Times sat down with the four North Suncoast veterans one evening last week at VFW Post 8681 on County Line Road. Listening to their words here, on this, the 67th anniversary of the Sunday morning on which Pearl Harbor was attacked, is a reminder of how many things have changed, and how some things have not.

I was sitting on the porch waiting with my mother to get picked up to go to church. My brother was coming to take us to church. He heard it on the radio and told us.

— Hendricks

I was in a drug store having a sundae when I heard about it. They blasted it on the radio.

— Wagner

I was home at the farm.

— Decker

We only had three radios on the whole block. Children in the neighborhood would gather on the porch and listen.

— Hendricks

I listened to the president's speech that night.

— Key

I don't think I went to school the next day. My dad was getting ready to go enlist, too.

— Key

My dad, he wanted to re-enlist. He was in World War I. They wouldn't allow him. He was born in 1898 so he would've been 43. He was just hankering to go. Had that feeling.

— Wagner

My mother, she was all upset. I don't think any of the mothers liked it. I know mine didn't.

— Wagner

I couldn't get into the service because I was still in school. But I got in as soon as I could get in.

— Key

If you were 17, you had to have a high school education, and your parents' permission. A gaggle of us went down to Detroit. Probably about a third of the graduating class.

— Wagner

I was 19. I went down on the 7th of January to join.

— Hendricks

They had lines down there. Marines. Army. Navy. Coast Guard. They'd shuttle you into where they needed you. We didn't care. We just wanted to be in something.

— Wagner

The eighth grade was as far as I went. We went to a little schoolhouse out in the country. One teacher taught all eight grades.

— Decker

Might've been a year or two before that we got electricity on the farm. When I milked cows I carried a lantern.

— Decker

Gasoline rationing.

— Key

Flour.

— Decker

Tires. Sugar.

— Hendricks

Even liquor was rationed. My dad would go into the liquor store and buy a fifth of booze and they'd take some stamps out of his book.

— Decker

They'd have little trailers, a little truck drawing a four-wheel trailer, and they'd come up and down the streets in Detroit. The newspaper would pass on the word. You'd throw in your aluminum pots and pans. Everything. Throw it in. To make airplanes. For the service. — Wagner

We'd talk about the South Pacific. We'd never heard of it. Not really. Maybe in a movie or two.

— Wagner

We were in the Pacific and ended up in Guadalcanal.

— Wagner

I was in Iwo Jima when they raised the flag. On the ship. We got hit by a suicide plane.

— Decker

In Guadalcanal, we spent five days on that beach, getting hit. Five horrible days.

— Key

When I got out of the service, I went back home, got a job. I needed to make some money. My goal was I wanted to be a doctor. But when I came back I had other things. I worked up to a superintendent of manufacturing of GM. Built trucks. Engines.

— Wagner

I worked construction in Minneapolis.

— Decker

I was a merchant seaman.

— Hendricks

I did 35 years in the city of Tampa as an engineer. Later on I went into trucking with my sons.

— Key

There's only a few of us here. We lose 1,500 veterans a day.

— Key

You've got to be in your 80s to remember Pearl Harbor.

— Decker

It was the biggest thing that ever happened in this country.

— Wagner

It'd be good for the men in this country to have the draft. Learn something.

— Decker

I don't think we have the patriotic enthusiasm we had then. We were ready to go right quick back then.

— Key

Why? I don't know. You tell me.

— Key

Sure makes you appreciate life.

— Hendricks

I felt like I did my part.

— Wagner

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Four veterans recall Pearl Harbor attack and lives of service 12/06/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 6, 2008 11:56am]

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