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Witness to Pearl Harbor recalls service life

Clevis Kaeo is a man of the world.

The Hawai’i-born Linden resident spent 21 years in the United States Air Force before settling down in Marengo County, even serving a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam.

In a career that spanned from 1951 to 1972, Kaeo has been stationed in Maine, Texas California, Louisiana and Hawai’i. He’s also spent time in England, Thailand and Spain

However, one of the most historical conflicts he witnessed came from his backyard as an 8-year-old boy one December morning in 1941.

“December 7,” he recalled. “That was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Kaeo remembers the bombers flying through his neighborhood before striking the unsuspecting American ships only moments later.

“I lived about three blocks from the beach,” he said. “To get a straight shot at ‘Battleship Row,’ the Japanese planes had to fly right over my house. I remember hearing the noise and seeing the smoke. It only took a few minutes before we knew what happened.”

What happened changed even the simplest things for the Kaeos and their neighbors.

“We used to go down to the beach and surf,” he said, “but no more. The beach was surrounded with barbed wires and big guns. Howitzers were mounted all along the beach for about four years.”

When Clevis graduated high school in 1951, he enlisted in the Air Force before retiring in 1972 as a tech sergeant.

“I was in law enforcement and security,” Kaeo said. “I guarded the airplanes.”

During Vietnam, Clevis — serving as a flight commander — was in charge of a unit assigned to guarding American bases and their aircraft.

“We had towers all around the base,” he said. “My men were in the towers on the perimeter, others were inside guarding the planes and ammunition.”

Clevis met his wife, the former Pansy Sealy of Linden, while stationed in Texas.

Upon retirement, the Kaeos relocated to Linden.