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One of Q-C's last Pearl Harbor survivors dies
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One of Q-C's last Pearl Harbor survivors dies

One of only two known Quad-City survivors of Pearl Harbor died Monday.

Alvis "Al" Taylor was 93.

For many years, the Davenport veteran declined to speak of his memories of Dec. 7, 1941. Late in life, however, he shared many details, especially with his family.

"He remembers every minute of that day — from the time he woke until he passed out from exhaustion," his son, Brian Taylor, said in a 2014 interview. "He'll take it with him."

The senior Taylor was a frequent fixture at local veteran-related events and was thoroughly honored by the public and by his fellow veterans. In fact, it was members of Vietnam Veterans Chapter 299 that paid the way for Taylor and Eldon Baxter, now the last known living Pearl Harbor survivor, to travel to Hawaii in 2013 for memorial ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial.

He was hesitant to make the trip to the place that haunted his memories for seven decades.

About two months before his first return to "The Pearl" in 2013, Taylor disclosed his reservations. He and Baxter met for a photo and interviews at the American Legion in Davenport, and Taylor told me he was nervous — afraid his emotions would get the best of him — even after 72 years.

On the day the Japanese attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor, Taylor was an Army man. He was in charge of the fleet of ambulances that transported hundreds of wounded sailors to island hospitals. After suffering a stroke in 2002, Taylor suddenly found himself able to talk about that day.

"It's not easy now," he acknowledged that October day at the Legion, his speech marred by stroke. Tears rose in his eyes as he explained: "So many dead sailors. That's why I have such a hard time going back."

As he spoke, Taylor continuously clutched the arm and hand of Baxter, who was seated next to him.

I later asked him whether the trip had been as hard as he feared. His answer: "Harder."

When the war ended, Taylor served at a naval port in New York, where he supervised the discharge of war dead from ships. Some ships carried the remains of thousands of dead soldiers, and every casket had to be inspected. This meant every casket had to be opened before the remains were assigned escorts and transported home or to national cemeteries for burial.

His wife, Sharon Taylor, explained the routine: "When the ships came in, there were two buglers — one on shore and one in the hold (of the ship) — and they would play taps one note apart. When they were short a bugler one day, they found out that Al plays, and they went to him. Very reluctantly, Al went in the hold and played."

His chin quivering with emotion, Taylor added, "I cried through the whole thing."

Just prior to the anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2014, Brian Taylor told about the time his dad's memories — and the pain that came with them — came tumbling out.

"It was shocking," he said. "After he told it, I understood why he kept it to himself. The first time I saw my dad in tears and turmoil was that day. There was some terrifying stuff — tugging on bodies and their skin falling off."

The younger Taylor had seen pictures and video footage of the attack, but he realized after hearing his father's story what the images failed to capture.

"You can see the pictures, but you can't smell it and taste it," he said. "My dad can still smell that smell and taste that taste 73 years later. I sat there stunned and silent for the better part of an hour. Afterwards, we both were stunned — him from remembering and me from realizing what he'd done.

"The things he told me — you don't forget that. It's your dad, with tears rolling down his face."

He added: "He's a hero to our family. He's a hero for me. But you call him a hero, and he says, 'No. The heroes are all dead. They died that day.'"

Rest in peace, finally, Al Taylor.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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