Al Wylder, 89, of Hebo, is well known in south Tillamook County, where he has lived for the past 20 years. He is known for his waxed, white, handlebar mustache, his colorful clothing, friendly demeanor, his huge, outsized laugh, and his love of good food. Al is a life-long runner, and locals still see him burning up the pavement along Hwy 22, running with his dog, Buddy.
Folks may not know that Al is a WWII veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He saw the bombs falling from the sky.
“I graduated from Rogers High School in Spokane, Washington in June of 1941. In July of ‘41 I joined the Army. I was 18 years old. At the time, the war was going on in Europe, but we weren’t in it yet. I joined up because they were going to start drafting people for two years’ service at the age of 21. I figured I’d sign up at 18 and be done with it before I turned 21. But it didn’t quite work out that way.
“After basic training I was stationed in Hawaii. That was just about as close to paradise as a guy could get; it was just wonderful,” before December 7th, that is.
“The morning of December 7th, 1941 I was eating bacon and eggs for breakfast when we heard the Japanese planes overhead. It was that unmistakable dive-bomb sound. All of a sudden there was a boom that shook our whole building. I went outside and saw the son of a guns diving, I even saw their bombs.
“I went back inside and finished my breakfast. When I went back out they flew right overhead, strafing us, they were shooting their dad-blamed machine guns at us. Well I went back inside, we all did, until they flew past. Then we loaded up in our trucks and headed for battle stations.
“I was an infantryman. I manned a machine gun from a beach position near Pearl Harbor. That day the smoke was so thick and black from the bombed out ships and planes that that the streetlights came on. Everybody was all out of sorts and antsy as heck.”
Al hesitated to talk about the aftermath of the bombing, the rescue of the wounded and recovery of the deceased. When asked about his part in the recovery efforts, Al’s brows knit and he looked away and swallowed. He was quiet for a few moments, his expression distressed as he replayed a silent movie of the traumatic events in his mind. “It was awful,” he said, shaking his head. “Just terrible.”
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor the United States was thrust into the war, and Al spent the next three and a half years fighting in the South Pacific. “From Hawaii we went to Guadalcanal. It was about three weeks on a troop ship. The food was pretty dog-gone good, but the troop ship was pretty crowded. We each had our own bunk, but it was crowded quarters. That was December of ’42.
“The first day in combat I lost my best buddy. The Japanese were shooting their machine guns at us from the beach as we were coming ashore. My best buddy was right next to me when he got hit.” Al paused in his narrative and remembered his friend.
“Anyway,” he said, “we went ashore through their gunfire and went on in the jungle. It was not fun.
“We battled there for a little more than a month, and then we secured the island.
“Then they shipped us up to New Georgia Island. New Georgia, that was a battle. I survived every day that came about. I didn’t miss a duty, I didn’t miss a day of action. In our regiment of 215 men, only myself and one other man were never hit or injured or sick one day. Less than one percent of us. But I tell you, it was absolutely miserable. Combat duty every day in jungle so thick we never saw the dog-gone sun for three weeks at a time, 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity, 100 percent of the time.
From New Georgia we went to the Philippines, to Luzon Island in the Lingayan Gulf. We were in pretty good shape there,” he said. “We managed with no trouble.”
Al was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1945. “I returned to San Francisco four years to the day from when I departed. That was something, four years to the day.”
After the war Al went to college on the GI bill, and became a professional sports trainer. Be sure to pick up a copy of the August 15 issue of the Headlight Herald to read about Al Wylder’s career in professional baseball, when he was the trainer for the Cincinnati Reds dream team of 1965 working with Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.