Acadiana veterans recall Pearl Harbor attack

Sharing their stories

“I saw the first Japanese bombers fly over. I saw the first bomb go off. I saw the black smoke come up.” BoB Lowe, Marine veteran assigned to Wake Island in 1941

Five Acadiana servicemen who lived through the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941 gathered Wednesday to remember that Sunday almost 72 years ago.

They were just teenagers then, or barely 20. They’re old men now, 89 to 92 years old. Some used canes and hearing aids as they gathered to share their stories at a reunion at the Petroleum Club.

Although they move kind of slowly these days, the World War II veterans have no problem remembering where they were or what they saw on Dec. 7, 1941, a Sunday.

Bob Lowe, the only Marine to make the reunion Wednesday, said he was 18 and had been assigned to Wake Island, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the U.S. had built an airstrip in January 1941.

Lowe was at Pearl Harbor awaiting the repair of a radar system for Wake Island, thousands of miles to the west of Hawaii.

The Japanese Navy attacked Wake Island the same day it bombed Pearl Harbor, eventually taking the island from the Americans.

Lowe said he was fortunate to have been where he was. If he had been on Wake Island, he would have spent the war as a Japanese prisoner of war.

He has vivid memories of the scene at Pearl Harbor.

“I saw the first Japanese bombers fly over. I saw the first bomb go off. I saw the black smoke come up,” Lowe said.

Joseph Richard, 90, was a teenager from Sunset assigned to the repair ship USS Rigel.

“The Japanese pilots would wave at us when they came by,” Richard said.

Richard’s first order that day was to help survivors get off the heavily damaged battleships Arizona and Oklahoma, or pluck the sailors and Marines from the waters of Pearl Harbor.

Richard remembered that he and his mates rescued three sailors in the water near the capsized Oklahoma, their heads barely above water.

“Fifty-two years later, I met one of them (at a reunion) in Las Vegas,” he said. “He got up and kissed me.”

Alex Taylor, 92, was a 20-year-old cook first-class assigned to the USS Dobbin, a supply ship for destroyers.

That morning he was talking to another baseball player about a league championship game among servicemen that was to be played that day.

“I was talking baseball,” Taylor said. “We lost three men aboard the Dobbin. They were machine-gunned by Japanese planes.”

Taylor left the Navy after the war, returned to Lafayette and went to work for AT&T, retiring in 1984 after raising a family.

Two more sailors from Acadiana, Douglas Harper, 89 and a Carencro resident, and William Puissegur, 91 and from Crowley, entered the Petroleum Club later than the others Wednesday. They blamed traffic, then settled in for conversation and photos and a little alcohol.

Harper was a carpenter’s mate second-class, 17 when he signed up. Puissegur joined the Navy at 19 and became a radio operator who went on to raise eight children and found the Candy Specialty Co. in Crowley, which remains a family-run firm.

According to the National World War II Museum website, 600 veterans of that war die each day.

Lowe, an energetic optimist, sold his oilfield service company in 1985 and pays for the gathering each year at the Petroleum Club, a tradition he started in 2005.

“I got the room rented out for another 10 years,” he said.