By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
They served on ships sunk by suicide bombers and in the infantry during some of the heaviest fighting of the Second World War.
One got so hungry one day that he ate iguana and liked it claiming almost 60 years after the event that it tastes just like huckleberry dumplings.
Another was at sea Dec. 7, 1941, with the group assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington and missed by two days steaming into the ferocity of the Pearl Harbor attack.
For the second year, students in Dianne Ellingsons World War II literature class invited that wars veterans to Baker High School last Friday the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. While the former servicemen imparted their history for students, teachers and volunteers gave them plates full of holiday goodies in return.
The students task, Ellingson said, was to learn to apply what an earlier generation had to do to continue our democracy.
Eleven veterans sat at tables in the library, allowing students to interview them and to uncover primary source details that Ellingson worries will be gone in a few years.
This is the last of this generation that will be able to sit and talk with students, she said, noting that the nation is losing its Second World War veterans at the rate of 1,000 per day.
At least two of the men had compelling stories to recount. At one table, Vernon Shull of Haines recalled his years of naval service for Nicole Butler, a senior at BHS.
I was sure glad to be in the Navy instead of the Army or Marines, he told her. We had bunks and regular food, and we didnt have to live in foxholes.
Shull was serving onboard the Chicago when it was sunk by the Japanese, but he said his worst experience was later in the war, aboard the Birmingham off the coast of the Philippines.
The carrier Princeton had been hit by a suicide bomber, and the Birmingham was ordered to pull alongside to provide fire suppression, he said.
Our captain jammed us right against her, but we got report of an enemy submarine nearby, so we pulled away until the sub was sunk, he said. We got back and started fighting the fire when the Princeton blew up, killing 235 and injuring more than 400 (aboard the Birmingham). We lost a lot more men than the Princeton did. It sent us back to the navy yard for repairs.
Shull was then assigned to a troop carrier that planted troops at Okinawa. The crew spent a long month dodging suicide planes and boats.
After 30 days a suicide plane finally got us, he said. That did enough damage to force us out, and we limped back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Most of us were glad, to tell you the truth. It was the first sleep wed had in a month.
At a nearby table, Levi Macy listened as his grandfather, John Macy of Baker City, spoke of his six years of service in the 158th Regimental Combat Team.
Macy brought along a copy of the book The Story of the Bushmasters, a book written about his units experiences in the torrid fighting that occurred in the Philippines.
The pictures remind him of stories he hasnt told in a long time, Levi Macy said. Its incredible hearing stories about some of his buddies.
Some of the stories the liberation of prisoner of war camps, for example were too painful for Macy to tell. Others were culinary in nature eating the iguana, or killing what must have been a hundred-year-old parrot for for a meal, which Macy doesnt recommend.
We were hungry, and the natives kept pushing iguana on us, he told his grandson, adding, the meat does look a lot like lobster tails.
Macy said his unit was spared the certain bloodshed that would have occurred in an invasion of Japan. His unit was to have been dispatched to Yokohama to serve as an advance guard two days before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, killing 75,000 people.
Macy also discussed some current events with his grandson. He showed him an article from VFW magazine called The War on Terrorism.
This will be your war, and your brothers war, he told his grandson.
Levis brother, Barry, is a tank driver in the Army National Guard.
I think the veterans enjoy talking to the students about what theyve been through, Ellingson said as wartime remembrances continued around the library. Theyre grateful that people are still interested in what they have done and that they havent been forgotten.