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‘Pearl Harbor’ movie debut evokes memories for Lodi resident

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Posted: Friday, May 25, 2001 10:00 pm | Updated: 12:24 pm, Mon Jul 23, 2012.

Generally, people who talk during movies are considered annoyances, and do so strictly at their own risk.

But not Lodi's Bing Taylor.

Many moviegoers at Friday's premier screening of "Pearl Harbor" at the Valley Cinema were kept on the edge of their seats as much by Taylor's running commentary on the flick as they were by the flashy Disney blockbuster itself.

While Taylor's take on the movie may differ somewhat from the review of well-known movie critic Roger Ebert - who did not like the movie - Taylor's "thumbs up" rating is probably far more gratifying to the film's creators.

Taylor, you see, was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"I want to thank you for what you did," said Lodi's Robert Crawford, shyly approaching to shake Taylor's hand after noticing his Pearl Harbor survivor's cap outside the theater.

Crawford's father, himself a survivor of the Pear Harbor attack, was stationed at Hickam Field, part of the sprawling military installation that was home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"Men like you are heroes," he said.

"We're just lucky to be survivors," Taylor replied.

Taylor and his wife were treated to a complimentary screening of the film by the management at Valley Cinema, which also welcomed him by placing his name on the marquee, and giving the couple free reign at the concessions stand.

"I'm grateful to him just like everyone else," theater manager Jennifer Bryce said. "We thought this would be a nice way to honor him."

Taylor said that, in many ways, the film had the same effect on him as "Saving Private Ryan" had on World War II vets who served in the European Theater.

"They did a remarkable job with the combat scenes," he said after the three-hour megafilm, which lasted almost 30 minutes longer than the actual attack.

"It brought back a lot of memories for me," said Taylor, who had just returned from an emotional reunion in Las Vegas with 78 of the remaining crew members of the USS Pelias, a submarine tender which survived the attack on Pearl.

"If you took out all the kissing," he said with a wink, "the movie probably would only have lasted a half-hour or so."

Although the film took some degree of artistic license with history, most of "Pearl Harbor" was uncannily realistic - down to the most minute details, Taylor said.

"You see that guy?" Taylor said, pointing to the screen. "That's how sailors really wore their caps, just like that, with a crease in them. That guy's salty."

For Taylor, 83, the film was a nostalgic reminder of his youth and his sacrifices, as well as those of the millions of Americans from his generation who collectively dealt fascism a death blow.

Taylor grew up on a fruit ranch just north of Lodi, and attended Lodi High School, where he played in the band.

In 1940, he became one of the first Lodians to enlist, joining a naval reserve unit. In May 1941, Taylor's unit was called to active duty at the Brooklyn Naval Yard to help commission the Pelias.

In September 1941, the Pelias shoved off for an exotic-sounding port in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor.

The ship arrived at Pearl almost two weeks late - a fact which Taylor said almost certainly saved his life, and those of his 1,100 crew mates.

"When a Japanese agent took aerial photographs to mark off the ships' locations, we hadn't arrived yet," he said. "When the attack came, they didn't even know we were there."

When the first bombs hit early on that balmy, forever-infamous Sunday morning, Taylor was aboard the Pelias, just finishing his chow.

"I stuck my head out the portal and saw bullets hitting the cement down below," he said. "I remember thinking, 'What are they doing using live ammo in these training drills? Someone could get hurt.' "

Taylor said it was at first hard to accept that a U.S. naval installation was coming under fire.

"To a dumb farm boy like me, the idea that a foreign country would attack the United States was preposterous," Taylor said.

But a near-miss by an aerial bomb on the Pelias, followed by a strafing by Japanese Mitsubishi Zero attack planes, convinced him it was all too real, Taylor said.

Ordered below, he worked feverishly to link up .50 caliber Browning machine gun rounds into the belts fired by anti-aircraft batteries, running them up to crews as quickly as they could be coupled together.

One of Japan's biggest blunders in the attack may have been the failure to destroy the Pelias, which was laden with thousands of gallons of fuel, 490 torpedoes and 190 mines - each packed with enough powerful torpedo explosive to sink a cruiser, Taylor said.

"If they'd have hit us, we'd probably have been blown all the way to the moon with all the ordnance we were carrying."

The next day, the 12 submarines tended by the Pelias began to strike back against Japanese tankers, taking a crippling toll on the emperor's cargo fleet, which comprised of almost 40 percent of Japan's ships, Taylor said.

A veritable encyclopedia of World War II history, Taylor at several points in the film divulged historical information relevant to a particular scene before the on-screen character was able to get around to it.

"You could never fire that big gun so long," Taylor said as actor Cuba Gooding Jr. rattled off a long string of blanks at the make-believe Mitsubishis on screen. "The barrel would melt down on you pretty quick."

Perhaps only Disney has both the cash and the technical expertise to create a film that would have as much appeal to a starry-eyed gaggle of high school girls as to a crusty vet like Taylor, who seemed at times to grow bored during the movie's plethora of romantic scenes.

Other scenes, however, were far more to his liking.

"Fire in the paint shed!" Taylor exclaimed when a boozy brawl broke out between romantic co-leads Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett over the affections of leading lady Kate Beckinsale.

Taylor was also quickly energized with adrenaline during the film's starkly realistic battle scenes, which seemed often to transport him back in time 60 years - to Pearl.

"You see those guys in the water?" Taylor said. "That water is full of oil, and it's going to catch fire … ."

Taylor is an avid believer in the theory that President Roosevelt was fully aware of Japan's plan for the sneak attack well in advance, but did nothing to prevent it - and in fact, even went to great lengths to provoke it with a series of moves meant to humiliate Japan.

"America did not want to get involved in the war," Taylor said. "They felt (Adolf) Hitler was Europe's problem. This was a way of getting America into the war before the Axis powers became too strong."

Despite the suspected deception by his government, Taylor said he holds no ill will.

"The 2,400 American lives lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor were probably cheap in comparison to what our losses would have been had we waited," Taylor said.

Active in many veteran's groups, Taylor said the bond between those who served together is something that must be experienced to be understood.

Taylor points out that many survivors of the USS Arizona, now in their 80s, are electing to be buried at sea with their fallen comrades at the bottom of the harbor by teams of Navy frogmen.

"These men are shipmates, and a shipmate is far more than just a friend," he said.

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