Most people don’t know that for every aviator, sailor or soldier with his index finger on the trigger, there are 10 or more support personnel supplying all their needs for victory. Petty Officer First Class Roland Peachee was going about his duties as a butcher on the dock next to his assigned ship the USS Rigel on the morning of December 7, 1941.
He heard some booms in the distance but thought nothing of it at the time.
“I think we were accusing the Army of having practice on Sunday,” Peachee said.
As the bombs began to fall Peachee took cover under a large crane, his only weapon, his meat cleaver. When he emerged it took him awhile to process what he saw.
“There were bodies in the water,” Peachee said. “Some of them were dead, in oil, burning.”
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.
The ships 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.
Peachee was physically unscathed but for some reason the Navy sent a telegram to his foster family in Indiana stating he was missing. He was unaware of the telegram as well and started a new life after the Navy with his wife in Nevada.
“I am ashamed I did not keep in touch with them because they were good to me,” Peachee said
In the 1980’s, he decided to look up his foster-brother.
“They said it can’t be you. I said well why not? Well you were reported dead at Pearl Harbor.”
Peachee worked as a grocer in Nevada for most of his professional life. He campaigned the state legislature to authorize a special license plate for Pearl Harbor survivors.
His home is like a living museum to that December morning. Mementos, the 98-year-old is proud to look upon every day, including an award signed by President George H.W. Bush. During World War II, as a Naval Aviator, Bush flew a torpedo bomber.
“I guess I would be considered one of the lucky ones because I survived it and hell, I am an old man now, still alive,” Peachee said.
He was a founding member of the Silver State Pearl Harbor Survivor Association in the 1950’s. At the time there were 60 members. Peachee believes there are only four now.