Feedback: Special Pearl Harbor Edition
In the July issue of HONOLULU Magazine, we asked our readers for memories of Hawai‘i during and after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. And letters poured in! Here is a selection of accounts that show what it was like to be a civilian on that infamous day. Our thanks to everyone who wrote in to us!
Photo: WWII Valor in the Pacific
We have enjoyed HONOLULU Magazine for many years. In the July issue, there was an article about “Remembering Pearl Harbor at 75.” My wife and I have been remembering it for a few months short of 75 years. She has been hounding me for two months to send you my recollections of that day. I finally gave in and have written it down for my kids and grandkids as well as you. So, for what it’s worth, enclosed is my remembrances of Dec. 7, 1941:
Dec. 7, 1941 Remembered by a 10-Year-Old Boy in Nu‘uanu Valley
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941 I awoke and got out of bed a little before 8 a.m. My mother and father were up, as well as my younger sister. Our Japanese maid was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. As we were waiting for breakfast to be served, anti-aircraft target practice started. My father commented that it was earlier than usual, and unusual for a Sunday morning. We went out to have a look. My dad noted that the puffs of smoke were not the white ones we were used to seeing, but were black, which meant they were using live ammunition. We could see a couple of planes, but no target. About that time, the phone rang. It was undoubtedly the railroad calling; maybe a train off the track. My father was the general manager of the O‘ahu Railway & Land Co., which operated the railroad which ran from downtown ‘Iwilei, to Kahuku and up to Wahiawa.
The phone call was the station manager of the Pearl City Train Station, which was right at Pearl Harbor, calling to say that Pearl Harbor was being attacked by the Japanese. Wow! We had a hurried breakfast. Dad announced he had to go down to the railroad and see to it that the equipment was spread out. He told my mother to take us down next to the stream in the back yard, which was the lowest spot in our yard, and stay there. I went with him when he got into his station wagon to leave and he placed a .38 caliber police pistol on the seat beside him. He told me to listen to my mother and left.
My mother filled the bathtub with water and then herded us all down to the stream in the back yard. There was my mother, my sister, our maid, a cocker spaniel named Tippy and me. My mother spread a white blanket out on the high grass and we all climbed aboard. I said that I didn’t think it was a good idea to be on a white blanket, because we would make a good target. That fell on deaf ears. So there we sat for about 10 or 15 minutes and suddenly two Japanese planes came flying down the valley from the direction of the Pali Lookout. They were so low, I felt like I could throw a rock and hit them. About that time, we heard the increasing whine of something and the back house next door, separated from us by a panax hedge, blew up. I envisioned the word BOOM written in the cloud of black smoke. How did a bomb get from those planes on one side of our property to the house on the other side of our property?
Mr. and Mrs. White lived in the back house, which we thought for sure had been hit. It turned out that Mr. White was up in Dowsett Highlands at the house they were building there and talking to his wife over the newly installed telephone. He saw the house where they lived explode and the phone went dead.
After another 10 minutes or so, it seemed safe, so we left our lower yard because my mother wanted to have a look next door. She told us to stay in our yard and went through the hedge. After a few minutes, I couldn’t stand it and went through the hedge anyway, and it was an awful scene. Mrs. White lay dead on a door in the yard, one whole side of her body blown away. Mr. White had rushed down the hill and was there sobbing inconsolably. The house, while still standing, had no insides. Most of the roof was blown off and windows and doors blown out. After talking with a few neighbors who had come to help, my Mom decided, since we couldn’t help, we should get out of there. So she put us all in the car and we went up to the Dowsett Highlands home of Lorrin Thurston, who owned the Advertiser newspaper. From there, we could see the ships leaving Pearl Harbor and the Japanese attempting to dive bomb them. After a while, all was quiet.
We spent the rest of the day there, listening to the radio and wondering what was going to happen next. On the radio, there were multiple scary reports of parachute landings and of a poisoned water supply and other sorts of bizarre things. Probably the most nervous people there at the house were the two Japanese maids. They were loyal Americans, but on Dec. 7, it wasn’t so good to be of Japanese ancestry.
We left the Thurstons and went home in the late afternoon. My dad arrived home shortly after that and we recounted the day for him. It was my mother’s and father's wedding anniversary. There was no celebration; however, my father decided we all needed a treat. So for dessert he made us all Hershey sandwiches. A couple pieces of hot toast slathered with butter with a Hershey bar between them. That was a first. Yummy! It started a family tradition. When it was time for bed, we all went to sleep in my parents’ room, including the maid. My dad had his pistol and rifle handy so I went into my closet and returned with my bow and some arrows. We were now set for the night, which turned out to be uneventful, but not much sleep. No school the next day or for many days.
In the investigation that followed, it was determined that the crew on a Dutch ship tied up in Honolulu Harbor were shooting at Japanese aircraft, but not setting the timers properly. They shot at the two planes coming down Nu‘uanu Valley. It was thought the shot missed our chimney by fractions of an inch, went through a tree which bordered our property, landed in the Whites’ front yard, slid under the house and exploded.
Everyone was devastated by Mrs. White’s death. She had been a favorite of my friends who used to come and play and swing in the hau trees behind her house. She made the best cookies, which she offered to us often when we played there.
PS: We picked shrapnel out of those hau trees for years.
John C. Walker Jr.
My father, P. Allan Dionisopoulos, then 20, served aboard the USS Ward, “the first shot ship,” which sank the mini-Japanese submarine prior to the bombing as it attempted to enter the safety zone. My father and almost all of his shipmates were from St. Paul, Minn. His parents did not know for three weeks if he was dead or alive. It amazes me today that deployed service personnel can Skype with their spouses and children. After Pearl Harbor, my father never took a day of the rest of his life for granted. He never wanted to come back to Hawai‘i because of the terrible memories, but, after my husband and I moved to Hawai‘i in 1978, he would come during the winter and spend a couple of months, and again learned to love Hawai‘i.
Regina C. Mass
Pearl City, Hawai‘i
My father, Brigadier General Rodger D. Young, Ret. USAF was at Hickam AFB that fateful morning. He was a young new recruit who had just been stationed at Hickam and he arrived around Nov. 30. What timing! He was walking out of the mess hall that Sunday morning and looked up and saw a Japanese plane fly right over his head. He then saw an object drop and, not knowing about the arc of trajectory of a bomb, thought it was going to hit him. Seconds later, the bomb impacted and exploded on one of the hangers. This was the first bomb to hit Hickam Field that day. This is one of many stories my father told over the years both to our family and in speeches at various Air Force functions. He had a rare, first-hand view of the entire attack and related the emotion and fear everyone felt in the days after the attack. Gen. Young went on to become a B-25 bomber pilot in the 13th Air Force and flew 54 combat missions in the Pacific theater. He retired as a decorated combat pilot in 1974. He passed in 1999. Our entire family attended the 50th anniversary in 1991, with my father giving us a tour of Hickam and walking us through what happened that day. It was an amazing trip for all of us.
Vero Beach, Florida
Photo: Courtesy of Kim Frankel
My mother was an Australian who immigrated to Hawai‘i in the mid 1930s. Shortly before 1941, she met my father at a party for officers. He was a flight surgeon in the recently formed Army Air Corps and attached to Hickam Hospital. For a boy from Brooklyn, New York, this seemed to be quite a dream assignment. On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, my father was driving to pick up my mum on St. Louis Heights and drive her to early brunch at my grandmother’s. Hearing the call on the radio, ordering all troops back to base, he turned the car around and headed back to Hickam. The car was a convertible shared by many of the men. The top was down, but when the strafing began, he put up the top, which was then strafed causing my father what he described as his only war injury: a cracked tooth which occurred when he slammed on the brakes and hit the steering wheel. When my father reached Hickam Hospital, the lawn between Hickam and Pearl was covered with the injured, burned and dying men from Battleship Row. And so began around-the-clock efforts to save the men. It continued for my father for about five days, when he finally fell asleep on the terrazzo floor. He was ultimately sent with a squadron through the South Pacific for the rest of the war.
Meantime my mum was waiting for my father. She heard a man outside shouting, “They’ve blown off a man’s leg; we’re at war!” When she went to the top of her drive, she saw the planes with the rising sun continuing to fly on their bombing runs over Battleship Row. She decided to drive to her mother’s, but, by the time she gathered herself and her dogs, the roads had been closed and checkpoints were manned by the Hawai‘i Guard. As they were largely composed of Asian Hawaiians, my mum assumed they had been occupied, and she drove through the barricades. After a few days there, she announced to my grandmother that she was going to the old Pleasanton Hotel to find my father. My grandmother asked how she knew he would be there. She said she “just knew.” She waited for nearly an hour. As she was about to give up, in walked a tall, thin man wearing a WW I helmet, and jodhpurs with a gun on one hip and a great knife on the other. They hugged each other. They married in March of 1942. My mother and grandmother were sent out of Hawai‘i to the Mainland and my father was sent on to the South Pacific. They didn’t see each other till the war was near its end. I have always felt a deep connection to Hawai‘i, and have done years of trainings for Hawai‘i police, prosecutors and judges.
Kimberly C. Frankel
We were the only Hawaiian residents living with commissioned officers at Schofield Barracks, my dad being a noncommissioned officer and they having no special area for his rank. We were a mixture of Hawaiian and second generation from the Philippines. It was quite early in the morning and my sisters were walking to mass, and my two brothers (who are gone now) were at the golf course caddying, as they usually did. My mom had the washing machine going; with nine kids, it was washing daily. Suddenly, there was the sound of bombs going off in the distance. My dad went outside, and climbed up on our roof; he came down, and excitedly told my mom he had to go to the Main Base, as he could see the smoke coming up. He shouted to Mom to get us ready, as we may have to evacuate. Of course, Mom was terribly excited. The next I knew, we were on a bus traveling toward Pearl Harbor. Evening seemed to come so suddenly, and our bus stopped as we passed Ford Island. It’s seared in my mind, that eventful, terrifying day, the harbor all in flames. I remember eventually getting to Mai Mai school in the Nu‘uanu mountains—we got separated from Mother. We were at the school for about two weeks, and when they finally allowed us to return to our home, they took everyone first to one of the barracks at Schofield, fed us Christmas lunch, and, even in this turmoil, remembered to have a Christmas program for the children, and each of us was given a gift. We then found our house filled with wounded, and could only take our personal belongings, and go to Wheeler Base, to another house. I seemed to never stop trembling, and, every time that day came, Dec. 7, I would tremble all day, until almost 40 years later, when I couldn’t leave the house for work, and had to go to a doctor who hypnotized me to only see the incident and not experience the trembling. It would be decades before I could look at books or even watch a war movie.
San Rafael, California
I’d like to tell you a little story of the entertaining my parents did during the War.
On Dec. 7, 1941, we were living at 10 Wylie St. (on the corner of Nu‘uanu and Wylie) and I was out in our front yard when this Zero flew right over our house on its way to Pearl Harbor from Kāne‘ohe MCAS.
Early in 1942, we moved down to Kawananakoa Place (opposite The Royal Mausoleum) to a bigger house on a large lot. The front yard held a badminton and volleyball court, and the back yard held a croquet court, a wash house connected to the garage, a maids’ quarters and a bomb shelter!
My dad owned a print shop on Halekauwila Street and was a member of the Honolulu Jaycees. My folks had a lot of cousins who would come through Honolulu going to or coming from the War. They would call, and they were asked to stop by for a visit and bring their buddies with them. Most times, they would be loaded down with food and drink because it was hard for civilians to get those items because of the rationing.
As the war continued, more and more military would come to our house and party hardy. Beside food and drink, they would often bring us parts of planes, shell casings and money they got off the prisoners or the dead.
We always had a full house on the weekends—maybe 20 or 30 people. In the beginning, sometimes the guests would argue, Army vs. Navy, officer vs. enlisted. So my dad had one hard and fast rule: When someone entered the house, my dad would supply them with an aloha shirt so you could not tell if they were an admiral, colonel, Sgt. or PFC!
I guess you could say that my parents ran their own little USO.
My mom and dad were the first donors of The Blood Bank. My mom volunteered and hospitals. My dad became president of the Honolulu Jaycees, then president of the Hawai‘i State Jaycees, then later on became the international vice-president of Junior Chamber International. He was president of Palama Settlement for five years, a 15-year director of the YMCA, started the Kiwanis Club and was its first president.
Oh, yes. He also owned and printed Paradise of the Pacific for a couple of years back in 1964!
Richard A. Watkins
I am the eldest daughter of Col. Ernest Leroy Reid USAFR, deceased 2015 at 95. He almost made the 75th. Roy was 21 and copilot in Capt Swenson’s plane that Zeros attacked and hit flares on board; the plane was on fire when it landed. Dad and crew escaped. Flight surgeon passenger Lt. Schick was wounded on-board in the leg and then hit by Zero strafing on the runway and died later that day.
This is a well-documented story, and what they did after is in many newspaper articles easily accessible with a Google search. Dad also wrote his story for Air Force Magazine for the 50th anniversary.
The last remaining member of Crew 3, Col. Earl Williams USAFR, 97, is coming to Pearl Harbor for the excitement. I like to believe I was instrumental in getting him to do so with my emails. He was a sergeant at the time and an engineer. He is still trying to get his Purple Heart from a head wound at Hickam. My dad wrote a letter in 1995 upon his request to verify he was wounded as a witness. I assumed he was awarded one, but that is not the case. What a shame, and shame on those who did not see fit to give him one.
Four of our family are coming as well. Our first born and first grandchild to mom and dad will join us with her husband. Tammy got her Masters degree from Hawai‘i Pacific University, stayed on the island, was married for nine years and divorced, and this will be her first visit back.
Joan Reid Ahrens