Late in the 1990s, Eloise Coyne’s sister convinced her to come down from the Southern Tier of New York to Florida.
Eloise did, and she soon met someone she would begin spending time with. In 2000, in Olean’s United Pentacostal Church, she married Robert Coyne — a World War II veteran and survivor of his ship being sunk in the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor 78 years ago today.
“He was such a wonderful man,” says Mrs. Coyne, who at age 95 is still spry, although she leans a little on a walker to get around. “He was very proud about his service and he spoke a lot about his experience at Pearl Harbor.”
Mrs. Coyne, a 1944 graduate of Cuba Central School, returned to live in the Olean area after Mr. Coyne’s death in November 2016. She said he attended many annual Pearl Harbor reunions, but in the few years just before his death there were so few survivors who could travel that reunions were no longer planned.
Born in Phillipsburg, Pa., Coyne joined the Civilian Conservation Corps out of high school and then joined the Navy. After training, he was serving as a chief signalman on the USS Hull, a destroyer that was in dock for repairs at Pearl Harbor.
Sleeping after an extended watch, Coyne was awakened by an alarm, according to a feature story on him in USA Today Florida in 2016. He and his crew ran for the bridge, watching Japanese planes skim the bay and strafe the ships. Battleships all around the Hull were hit with torpedoes.
Coyne watched the USS Arizona sink, as well as other ships.
“She sank, on fire,” he said. “The West Virginia sank. The Oklahoma rolled over in front of us.”
The Hull managed to make it underway and escaped the bay, later escorting the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The Hull saw action throughout the Pacific war, before it sunk in a typhoon in 1944. Coyne, who had transferred stateside just before, lost many friends.
He left the Navy after the war and worked as an engineer for the state of New Jersey, retiring in 1982 and moving to Lehigh Acres with his first wife, who passed away in 1991.
Eloise worked in many retail stores in the region, from Kresge’s, Bradner’s and Montgomery Ward in Olean to AM&A’s in Buffalo.
A mother of three sons from her earlier marriage, she lives today at Field of Dreams in Allegany.