Wednesday, February 10, 2010
A Great American
By any logic at all, Garlen Eslick should have died more than 68 years ago and not on Monday. This seaman was 19 when he was on kitchen detail, slicing tomatoes and cutting up lettuce on the U.S.S. Oklahoma when all hell broke loose on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
The sky was filled with Japanese Zeroes and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was on. One of his buddies just a few feet from him who was helping prepare a salad for lunch was killed by Japanese strafing.
The Oklahoma was destroyed by a Japanese bomb, and the great battleship was turned upside down in the harbor. There were 448 killed on the 27,500-ton Oklahoma. Garlen was one of 32 who was trapped in a compartment that was turned upside down. He was in there for 28 hours. He was one of 32 who were pulled out of the hull.
In 2007, Garlen and his wife of 65 years, Betty, went back to Pearl for a dedication of the Oklahoma Memorial. At the time he was only one of two survivors from that 28-hour ordeal. I did a column on him at the time, and it was an honor just to talk with him.
That day stayed with Mr. Eslick for the rest of life. As he said, dynamite couldn't blow those awful memories out of his head. He had some nightmares, and at times, that day would reach out unexpectedly and grab him.
But Garlen also spoke to school children about Pearl Harbor because he felt they needed to know the importance of that day when 2,402 Americans died, the courage of those on that Sunday morning, and what that fateful day did to the world.
Mr. Eslick went on to a career with the railroad. He died Monday following a stroke at age 87. Another World War II veteran gone, another eyewitness to one of the most infamous days in American history.
His services were at 11 a.m. today. May a great patriot rest in peace.