Utah Pearl Harbor survivors, in their 90s, marking 70th anniversary

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 7:49 p.m. MST

J. Tucker Davis, left, with his parents Marjorie and Emmett "Cyclone" Davis, at their home in Highland, Dec. 5, 2011. "Cyclone" was at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack Dec. 7, 1941. He was able to get a P-40 in the air that day, one of the few American pilots flying during the attack.

Steve Fidel, Deseret News

To read the first chapter of a book written by the son of a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack, please visit: "Cyclone — A Son Remembers His Father: The Biography of Colonel Emmett S. "Cyclone" Davis," By J. Tucker Davis.

HIGHLAND — Emmett "Cyclone" Davis was one of the few American pilots to scramble a plane into the air during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — 70 years ago today.

The P-40 he was flying took friendly fire from a stunned U.S. Navy below, and he was sent, alone, to see if a ground-invasion force was approaching Oahu.

No such force existed, as had been reported, or he would have faced the approaching armada alone.

He flew several additional missions that day, though none are officially recognized because he never took time to do the paperwork.

Cyclone would spend the rest of the war in the Pacific, finally leading a squadron of P-38s on one of the last aerial raids in that theatre of the war. This time it was Americans flying over Japanese soil.

The second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki the day before "Cyclone's Flying Circus" dropped napalm bombs on small-arms factories. "The two big ones got their attention; we brought them to the table," Cyclone said this week from his home in Highland.

Cyclone's first and last air missions are like bookends to the war. This year's Pearl Harbor Day observance is a big deal not only because it marks yet another decade since that infamous day, but because of the likelihood that survivors like Cyclone will be gone by the time the next decade after the attack is commemorated.

"There aren't many of us around anymore," Cyclone said, his wife, Marjorie, at his side. Cyclone turns 93 five days after National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Pearl Harbor Day in Utah

There are probably between 10 and 15 Pearl Harbor survivors in Utah. The Pearl Harbor Association listed 20 as of the beginning of 2011, but some on that list are known to have died as many as six years ago. Only four members of the group still participate in regular get-togethers, and some, like Cyclone, never joined the association to be counted on that list, so there is no exact count.

Even as their numbers are dwindling fast, organizations like the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs are still looking for, and finding, Pearl Harbor vets they didn't know about.

"There are others we've heard about, and we're still trying to find them," said Cathy Kitterman, president of the Utah chapter of The Sons and Daughters of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Her father, Pearl Harbor vet Carter Tomlinson, asked her years ago if she'd be interested in participating in the group. "I said, 'I would love to.'" She continues to work with the Pearl Harbor vets even though her father died in 1996.

An 11:30 a.m. Pearl Harbor Day ceremony in the rotunda of the Utah state Capitol will honor the four association survivors who still get together: Max Burggraaf, who was an electricians mate aboard the USS Nevada; Marion Kesler, a mess cook aboard the USS Hulbert; Kenneth Potts, a coxswain aboard the USS Arizona; and Ernal Underwood, a petty officer aboard the USS Helena.

An Honors to the Nation Cannon Salute by the 1st Battalion of the Utah National Guard's 145th Artillery is set to take place at 11:48 a.m., which corresponds with the 7:48 a.m. beginning of the Japanese air attack, Hawaii time, on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Organizers want the timing of that salute to be exact.

Important to remember

Some Pearl Harbor survivors, like a broader population of military veterans, still have a hard time talking about what they saw and experienced during the war. Even though hardly anyone knew Davis' first name is Emmett, "Cyclone" was a nickname, not a segue to a war story.

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