Matt Maddox, fifth-grade teacher Columbus Elementary School in Edwardsville, tried for years to have a Pearl Harbor survivor to visit the school before finally succeeding on Friday.
A National Guard member himself, Maddox received a teaching award from the VFW and happened to mention he would love to have a Pearl Harbor survivor come to the class.
Russ Rieke, of Highland, a former VFW state commander, said there was one living in Highland and helped arrange a visit.
Dallas Harvey, 94, spoke to more than 100 fifth-graders at the school. Dallas lives in an assisted living home in Highland while his wife of 66 years, Rita, lives in the attached nursing home.
Dallas said he joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school because it was the 1930s and there weren't any other jobs. He had been in the Navy for four years and was 22, serving as a petty officer second class, a medical corpsman, on the USS Argonne in Hawaii. The repair ship was tied to a dock, a mile or so from battleship row.
He told the kids about being due to go on duty at 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, when he stepped out on the deck to get a breath of fresh air before going below to work.
"I saw a plane coming over. I didn't think anything about it," he said.
After all, there was an Army airfield nearby.
"It looked like the plane dropped something," he said. "It hit the hangar and the entire hangar blew apart. I thought someone had made a terrible mistake.
"Another plane did the same thing and the hangar exploded again. A third plane flew right over our ship. I realized that wasn't one of our planes. It had the wrong insignia. I realized those were bombs."
He said he ran through the ship screaming at the top of his lungs for everyone to get to their battle stations. Before long the ship's anti-aircraft guns started firing.
His ship was away from the main action and he didn't really didn't have anything to do, he said.
"Then a call came for the fire and rescue party," he said. "We were supposed to go to one of the battleships, the USS California, about 10 of us."
They took a small, slow boat.
"It was so slow, I thought if I could walk on water I could've walked there faster," he said.
When they reached the California it already had been abandoned and was sinking. There was nothing to do but get back in the boat and go back to the Argonne.
On their way back, a second wave of Japanese planes flew overhead.
There was fire and smoke all over the place. Confusion reigned. Over the next few days there were reports the Japanese had landed on the islands and some American planes were accidentally shot down.
His next assignment was to help recover the horribly mangled or burned bodies of the dead. He said he got little sleep over the next three and a half days.
"There was so much to do," he said. "So few people left to do it."
He remembered one incident on his ship that shows the uncertainty men were feeling that day.
"I had a good friend working up on the anti-aircraft guns. We were both from Indiana, about 20 miles apart," he said. "Before I left, (to go help the California) we shook hands and agreed that if one of us was killed the other would go to the other's family and tell them what happened."
He never had to do that.
"I'm extremely lucky. Most people tell me I'm a hero. I don't think I am. When I look back, I realize I was a lucky one who got saved."
Dallas served another 26 years, rising to the rank of commander before retiring.
This isn't the end of the Pearl Harbor experience for Maddox' class. The class will send off an American flag which will then be flown on the Pearl Harbor Memorial and returned to the class.
Maddox's classes have sent letters to other Pearl Harbor survivors and gotten eight responses.
Of the eight men, four have died since, Maddox said.
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