Pearl Harbor survivor buried in Scott City

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
An honor guard from the Cpl. Mason O. Yarbrough Marine Corps League Detachment 1081 fires a rifle salute during the funeral service of Pete Underwood on Tuesday at Lightner Memorial Cemetery in Scott City. (ADAM VOGLER)

According to his son, Louie "Pete" Underwood never bragged about serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but occasionally talking about it didn't bother him.

"He'd tell you what you wanted to know," Russell Underwood said. "But he never wore it on his sleeve."

Teresa Miller, front left, and Matt Underwood, right, sit with friends and family members during the funeral service for Pete Underwood on Tuesday at Lightner Memorial Cemetery in Scott City. Pete Underwood was a sailor on the USS Utah during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Underwood swam to shore after the Utah, a Florida-class battleship, was sunk by a torpedo during the attack. He continued to serve in the U.S. Navy for the duration of World War II and afterward, retiring in 1961. (Adam Vogler)

Pete Underwood, who was laid to rest Tuesday at Lightner Memorial Cemetery in Scott City, never disappointed when he spoke of his wartime experiences. The story that had the biggest effect was of how he survived the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.

"Pete had just been through boot camp," said his grandson, Robert Underwood. "He'd been on the USS Utah only a short time before it was attacked."

The USS Utah, a battleship, was anchored at Pearl Harbor along with other ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet when the attack began that Sunday morning. Pete Underwood and other sailors on the Utah were below decks in their living quarters.

"He and his shipmates knew something was wrong," Robert Underwood said. "They could hear planes flying overhead and also the explosions."

During the confusion, an officer of the ship appeared in the men's quarters, telling them to stay below decks. The Japanese were attacking, the officer said.

Pete Underwood, as ordered, stayed where he was. But the calamity outside was soon to affect the Utah.

"A Japanese torpedo struck the ship," Robert Underwood said.

The strike caused the Utah to start to list. It was at that time when the officer's order was disregarded.

"The attack was something that was unthinkable," Robert Underwood said. "It was time for Pete and the others to live by their wits."

What Pete Underwood and other sailors did was make their way topside and find a perch from which to jump into the harbor.

"Pete and the others were still in a lot of trouble," Robert Underwood said. "Japanese planes were strafing anything in the harbor, and that included men trying to reach the shore. How Pete was able to make it 50 yards without being shot had to be close to a miracle."

Pallbearers carry Pete Underwood's coffin to a hearse from the Amick-Burnett Funeral Chapel in Scott City on Tuesday. (ADAM VOGLER)

Pete Underwood and his crew members reached the shore and found a pipeline ditch that provided them some safety. Meanwhile, the USS Utah sank, taking 54 sailors with it.

After the attack, Pete Underwood and the others realized something about what they were wearing.

"They were in their underwear," Russell Underwood said. "What they did was make their way to an officer's quarters nearby and take his clothes to wear. They also decided to have some of the officer's liquor while they were at it. They'd had a rough morning."

After surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor, Pete Underwood was assigned to convoy-escort duty on the USS Detroit from the continental United States to Pearl Harbor. Then, while he was taking part in the New Guinea and Philippines campaigns, another ship he was aboard was sunk.

"It was the USS Helena, a cruiser," Russell Underwood said. "They had been intercepting the Japanese at night to keep them from resupplying, but they took some shots. They all made it, though."

Pete Underwood survived the rest of World War II, and, unlike many men who left the Navy at the conclusion of the war, he made it a career. He saw more combat during the Korean War, and he later became a Navy recruiter in Cape Girardeau and Charleston, Mo., before he retired in 1961. He then worked at the Todd Uniform Co. in Cape Girardeau until 1985.

"He had a good retirement," Robert Underwood said. "He loved to hunt, fish and go camping. He was at his happiest then."

At his burial, members of the Cpl. Mason O. Yarbrough Marine Corps League Detachment 1081 performed a rifle salute, and two sailors from the U.S. Naval Reserve Center in St. Louis folded the American flag and presented it to Pete Underwood's daughter, Teresa Miller.

"It's an honor for us to be here to serve a fallen comrade," said Petty Officer Donald Floyd. "I'd want someone to do it for me."


Pertinent address:

Lightner Memorial Cemetery, Scott City, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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