This past December, WWII, Pearl Harbor, and Battle of Midway veteran Marvin Alexander, attended the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, an experience he says he really enjoyed.
Alexander, a Louisiana native by birth, is 93 years old and has lived in Corpus Christi since the early 1950s.
He married in 1940. He had gone to visit his sister in Tyler, Texas, and that is when someone from the Navy called him to ask if he was still interested in signing up. Alexander told him he was but he really wanted aviation. He was worried that having gotten married, he would no longer qualify.
He was commissioned in the Navy at age 17
“The Navy told me they were not accepting pilots then, so I was accepted into the Navy as a flight captain,” Alexander said. “My initial training was in San Diego where I was assigned to a squadron and then we were shipped off to Pearl Harbor later in 1941.”
Alexander was assigned to the “Black Cat” Squadron, VP-12, re-designated to VP-24 on Aug. 1, 1941.
. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was 18 years old “hunkered down” at Pearl Harbor while enemy rounds buzzed by his head.
Alexander says that during the attack on Pearl Harbor, he recalls men in the water swimming for shore.
“The men stayed underwater as long as they could. When they would come up for air, they were shot at. The guys I was hunkered down ashore with would run out onto the beach to pull as many to safety as we could.”
Throughout his time assigned to units fighting in the Pacific, Alexander saw many things happen he does not speak about. He does find some memories fonder than others.
“We would do search and rescue missions for our downed pilots,” Alexander said. “We rode in the PBY Catalina and would land them on the surface of the ocean once a pilot was spotted.
“We were able to rescue one particular fellow who had been floating in the water for six days. The seas were really rough so we could not take off after retrieving him,” he continues. “We ended up sitting on the water in place for a couple of days until the waves subsided. That was one of the dangers during rescue; it was easy to attract the enemy when we were sitting afloat like that.”
Alexander said he also participated in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Guadalcanal.
It was two long years of war in the Pacific for him while his wife Mary waited in San Diego for his eventual return.
“We could write home but we couldn’t say much about anything,” Alexander said. “She was a very patient woman.”
The Navy brought him back from war to San Francisco. He says the first thing he did was call Mary letting her know he was alive and on his way home.
He received orders shortly after returning to the mainland assigning him to NAS Corpus Christi. He and Mary also celebrated the birth of their second son, Marvin Jr., in San Diego before moving to Texas.
“I had our plane tickets ready to go for that trip to Texas but when we got to the airport, they would not let my wife fly because she had given birth so recently,” Alexander explained. “I had to put her, our first son Charles, and the baby on a train, all the way from San Diego to San Antonio.”
Mary passed away two years ago. They were married for 74 years.
“She never raised her voice at me, she never got mad at me,” he said.
Alexander tells two different stories as to how he and Mary met. One is factual and one is in jest.
“I used to tell people that I met Mary in a laundromat,” joked Alexander, “because I was looking for someone to do my laundry.”
In truth, they met in Illinois when Alexander was working in the oil fields for his brother prior to his Navy service. Mary was a dental technician for a dentist he had work done.
Once Alexander and his family were living in Corpus Christi, assigned to NASCC, their third son, Michael, was born at the Navy hospital aboard the base.
It would be a few years later when Alexander decided to leave the Navy. Mary had grown ill and he felt he needed to be with her in order to take care of the children and her.
“I had received orders to go back overseas and I just didn’t want to do that to her again,” Alexander said. “I decided it was time to leave the Navy, so I resigned my commission in 1955.”
Following Navy service, Alexander began to create a foothold for himself within the Corpus Christi business scene by opening up an A & W Root Beer soda shop.
“I remember really well having to work in that place,” says his son, Michael Alexander. “Dad used to put all three of us (sons) to work during the summers and after school.”
Alexander also began managing a tourist business venture in nearby Port Aransas that had become quite successful until Hurricane Beulah hit the Texas Coastal Bend in 1968. The large “Category 3” hurricane was the second-costliest storm in terms of damage –in-dollars at that time, leaving roughly $1 billion of destruction.
His was destroyed along with many other properties in Port Aransas.
“I remember that it felt like the house was going to come off of the ground and right across the street from us an apartment building’s entire roof blew away,” recalls Alexander. “Some of the buildings, by the way they were built, were lifted off of the ground by the wind and landed right back where they were.”
Alexander Enterprises was a theatrical booking agency he owned and operated that for 55 years until he retired.
Mike and his wife Carol, were able to take Alexander to the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Pearl Harbor. Mike says he will never forget that trip as it opened his eyes to the stories and memories so many veterans from that era quietly share, even the ones his father tries not to.