Pearl Harbor survivor honored in Grayling on 75th anniversary of attacks on the United States
Harvey Rowland, a Pearl Harbor survivor who went on to fly nearly three dozen missions in a B-17 over Europe during World War II, wasn’t at a commemorative ceremony to recognize the nation’s entry into the war this week, but he was there in spirit.
The American Legion Post #106 and The Carl W. Borchers Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #3736 purchased plane tickets and paid for accommodations to send Rowland to the 75th commemorative ceremony to mark Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Rowland, however, recently fractured his hip in a fall and was unable to make the trip.
Raised in Vassar near Flint, Rowland’s father ran a gas station. Due to lack of work during his late teen years, Rowland spent three straight summers attending the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Custer.
Rowland was working for Pontiac Motors when he enlisted and was accepted into the Army Air Corps on Nov. 7, 1940.
“I knew that I was going to get drafted and I didn’t want to be in the army,” Rowland said.
Rowland traveled by train then by ship to Honolulu, Hawaii, to take a position he was offered upon enlistment. He first requested to become a mechanic, a trade he could use in the family business, but there were no spots available for him and his name went on a waiting list. Instead, Rowland was assigned to serve as a security guard.
Pearl Harbor was on alert for potential attacks prior to Dec. 7, 1941. The United States was in the grips of the Great Depression, and hardships were placed on Japan through economic sanctions due to aggressive actions taken against China and Indonesia in hopes of establishing an Asian Empire.
On the Sunday before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Navy pilots passed by low over the area during the morning hours to wake up the rest of the troops.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, Rowland and a comrade were patrolling a road located between Warner Field and the Schofield Barracks. Rowland was giving directions to a woman and her daughter to a nearby Catholic church. A fleet of planes then approached the area and made a pass. When a pilot tipped his wing, Rowland noticed the Japanese flag and realized they were under attack.
“They dropped the first bomb right there, just a little way from me,” Rowland said. “We just got the hell out of there and got between a couple houses and stayed between them. They came in there and shot things up and that’s what started the war.”
Rowland said one friend that he chummed with quite a bit was injured during the attacks, while thousands of other troops lost their lives or were wounded.
“One of the bullets hit his leg, so they had to cut it right off, so he came right back to the states,” Rowland said. “I never saw him again after that, by golly. We lost a lot of them.”
After the attacks, Rowland described the environment at Pearl Harbor as stressful with the frequent blackout of lights and warning sirens.
“I was just plain hectic,” he said “It finally calmed down, but there were still blackouts and that sort of thing.”
In April 1942, Rowland attended a going away party for a friend who had been accepted to serve as an Army Air Corps cadet. Rowland doubted that he had the IQ to become a cadet, but after being challenged by his friend, he had his enlistment papers checked and found out that he did have the qualifications to move up the military ladder. Rowland passed his test to become a cadet, as well as the necessary physical and mental exams.
Rowland returned to the states and bounced around from various military bases as he learned to fly.
He started flight training in Santa Anna, California. Rowland then transferred to Texas, where he flew single and twin-engine airplanes. He also passed all of the instrument tests.
“I got my wings and I was commissioned then,”
Rowland requested to fly the B-17, which was also known at the “Flying Fortress.” The B-17 carried 6,000 pounds of bombs and had 13.50 caliber machine guns.
Rowland trained as a first-pilot for the B-17 in New Mexico. He then went on to pick up his crew in Salt Lake City, and they trained together in Louisiana. The crew picked up their own B-17 in Nebraska, before departing for Europe.
The crew then hopscotched across the Atlantic Ocean, making stops in Iceland and Ireland before landing at their home base near London.
Rowland and his crew were assigned to 100th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force. He was told that he would initially serve as co-pilot in order to learn to fly in formations, but was woken up one morning to learn that he would by flying solo as the Allies launched the D-Day invasion in France.
“My first mission was D-Day and I put in 35 missions all total,” Rowland said.
Rowland described serving as a bomber pilot as just like doing any occupation a person is trained to do.
“It’s just another job,” he said. “You just learn to fly and it’s the same as you do with anything else.”
Rowland, however, said being in war is miserable and they were times when tensions and emotions rose.
“I really loved to fly, but when they start shooting at you, then it’s something else,” he said. “You can’t help but get shook up. You get that flak coming at you and all that kinds of stuff and seeing the planes go down beside you.”
Between June 6, 1944 and Sept. 8, 1944, his flight crew flew their required 35 missions.
Rowland got home on Oct. 28, 1944 and married Beatrice Peterson of Grayling a week later. The couple met on a blind date while Beatrice was attending Central Michigan University and came to Vassar on a weekend visit.
Rowland was discharged in August 1945, after serving as a supply officer in Yuma, Arizona.
Rowland attended Central Michigan University for a year, with hopes of becoming a chemical engineer. One of his professors, who had a son who served in the Navy during World War II, advised him to take some time off because Rowland was suffering from symptoms more commonly known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Mentally, I just couldn’t handle it,” he said.
Rowland tried to reenter college a year later, but found that the place that he had rented to live was no longer available.
He returned to Grayling and asked his father-in-law, Thorwald Peterson, the owner Grayling Lumber and Supply, if he needed help at the business.
“I never got back to school,” Rowland said. “I put in 25 years with him, and 16 years with Cornell Real Estate, and then I retired.”
The couple had two children, Janet and James, and three grandchildren. Later, two great-grand children were added to the family.
Beatrice was Harvey’s best medicine for his post-war trauma.
“If I woke up in the middle of the night, shaking like a leaf and in cold sweat, she was there and she understood,” he said.
Rowland opted not to fly as a civilian, saying he didn’t want to tempt fate, with one exception. When the Yankee Lady, a refurbished B-17 owned by the Yankee Air Museum based out of Belleville, was brought to the Grayling Army Airfield for an air show in 2006, Rowland went on a flight. As the historic warbird was cruising over Higgins Lake, Rowland was invited to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and take control of the aircraft.
“It’s just like riding a bicycle,” Rowland said. “Once you do it, it comes right back.”
Rowland said he was honored that members of Grayling veterans service organizations, who spent Pearl Harbor Day with him, raised funds to send him to Pearl Harbor.
“That was really wonderful and I was really thankful for it,” he said.
Rowland said he was disappointed that his grand-daughter, Amanda, who was going to serve as his caretaker on the trip, wasn’t able to go back with him and fellow veterans to recount their memories.
“She was looking forward to going over as much as I was,” Rowland said. “It really would have been something for her.”
But once again, Rowland, his family and doctors decided it was not time to test fate.
“I’m just thankful to be alive. I don’t know what the Lord still has for me to do here still, but he’s got something here yet for me to do because he’s still keeping me around,” he said.