Northern Michigan in Focus: Pearl Harbor and D-Day Survivor

Imagine the year is 1940. Europe is at war, and America is about to be pulled into it.

You’re 19 years old when you get a letter. 

It’s a letter that changed Harvey Rowland’s life.

He is our profile in this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.

“I looked at it, and it was a letter from the government and I opened it up and it said ‘We’re starting a new group in Hawaii,’ and I said, ‘Yowee!’ She says, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘I’m going to Hawaii.’ She said, ‘When you going?’ I said, ‘Just as soon as I can get my pants on.’"

Harvey Rowland was on his way to Hawaii as part of the Army Air Corp.

Waiting to become an airplane mechanic, he was pulling guard duty at the Schofield Barracks, near Wheeler Field, on the morning of December 7, 1941.

“A lady come up in a car with her daughter and I said, ‘Can I help you?’ and she said, ‘Yes, I’m looking for the Catholic church.” I said, ‘It’s right straight ahead down about two blocks on the left hand side, you’ll see it there.’ And as I said that I looked up and saw these groups of airplanes coming in, and I said to the guy who with me, ‘Oh, here comes the Navy again.’ And were standing right there in the middle of the road watching them,” explains Harvey. “And I said, ‘These crazy guys don’t know what’s going on.’ And they tipped their wing to drop the bomb, and as they tipped it I said, ‘Holy cripes! That’s not the Navy, that’s the Japanese, look at that sun!” And just as I said that, boom, he dropped his bomb and it hit next to the gas dump right in the middle of the road. That was the first bomb, as far as I know. I still feel that was the first one dropped.”

The bomb targeting Americans to start World War II.

“It kind of scares you, because here you are and kaboom, and you’re standing there and you don’t know where to go and what to do,” says Harvey.

In a coordinated attack, Japan took out the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. Harvey was eight miles away.

“You could see the smoke down there, but to see the ships and everything, you couldn’t see them that far away,” says Harvey.

In just about two hours Japan destroyed 188 aircraft, sank four ships and damaged many others, and 2,403 people lost their lives.

Harvey survived Pearl Harbor, but he found himself in another historic battle as the captain of a B-17 in Europe.

“The pilot flies the first mission with somebody to learn how to fly formation, because I never flew formation, and I got up there and one morning they come in and said, ‘Lieutenant, get your crew you’re flying.’ I said, ‘I gotta go with somebody else first,’ and he said, ‘Not today.’ ‘Why?’ ‘D-Day.’ First mission was D-Day."

He was a part of the 100th Bomb Group, nicknamed ‘The Bloody Hundredth’ for all the crews lost.

“I was very fortunate, very, very fortunate," says Harvey. "I lucked out because I would go to 8-10 things then go to London for a 48 hour pass, and come back and there were all new guys in our group. Where the hell are they? They were shot down.”

After 35 missions, Harvey came home in September of 1944. He now lives in Grayling and hopes to be able to attend the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He has a lesson he wants to share from the war.

“I wish they would look back in history and why in the hell can’t we do something other than fight. Why can’t we sit down at a table and get with one another?”

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus