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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pearl Harbor Part One : The Bombing

There has been interest expressed in my posting my memories of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. As the anniversary draws near this seemed an appropriate time to do so. As the account is long it has been divided into three installments.

On December 7, 1941 my family and I were living in the military housing just outside the Navy Base at Pearl Harbor. I was eleven years old. This is my memory of the events of that day.

That morning a very loud noise awakened my sister and me. When we looked out the windows to see what was going on, we saw planes swooping and diving overhead. Here and there were plumes of black smoke. Like everyone else, we thought it an exercise being conducted by Hickam Field just across the highway. We heard the phone and our mother's voice but paid little attention until she ran upstairs to tell us our stepfather had called from the base, and the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. Most of our neighbors were standing in the parking lot gazing at the aerial show. When mother ran out and told them of the bombing, some of the women started to cry and everyone hustled their children inside. All the men that were home began to run for the base and their duty stations.

Unaware that our planes had already been destroyed on the ground, we thought they would arrive soon and drive off the Japanese. My mother and our neighbors, Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Pipes, were afraid that in order to escape, the Japanese would drop their bombs anywhere. As the housing was the closest target they decided to take us children and leave. Everyone hurriedly got dressed. My mother put on a suit, hose, and spectator pumps. Having been out the night before, the contents of her purse were in a black evening bag. The fashion dictates of the time said a woman's bag and shoes should match so we all waited somewhat impatiently while my mother changed from the evening bag to one that matched the spectator pumps. Having averted a fashion faux pas, we went out on the road to hitch a ride to the home of a friend. While we waited, a Japanese plane dove on us, and seeing we were women and children, the pilot smiled and waved as he pulled up. The noise, the smoke, women crying, men running and now a plane diving on us were exciting stuff for an eleven year old. We more or less commandeered the car of a gentleman driving toward the base to see what was going on. He drove us into the hills to the home of our friend. On the way we saw rooftops covered with people watching the attack, as well as half clothed military personnel running for the base.

When we arrived at our friend's the women sat and talked quietly. The mood was a somber one. The radio was kept on for any news and we listened intently. Even we children were subdued. The day crept by broken by lunch and dinner. In the evening the radio announcer said everyone should fill a bathtub full of water so they would have clean water to use if the water supply should be poisoned. One of the ladies filled the tub as instructed. The gravity of our situation was bought home to us when Walter Winchell's newscast came on. Censorship had not as yet been imposed, and one of Winchell's informants had given him what would later be classified information. He began to read the names of all the ships sunk in the attack. When he came to the West Virginia there was a cry from Mrs. Pipes. Her husband was on the West Virginia. She began to cry as the other women tried to console her. It would be two days before she found out her husband had gotten to the pier just as the ship was pulling out so was not aboard when she went down. At bedtime the sleeping arrangements were organized, and everyone went to bed. Before going to bed, my mother put a butcher knife under her pillow. I thought she planned to attack and kill any Japanese that might try to take us captive. It was not until years later I found that because of the stories she had read about the conduct of the Japanese in Nanking, she planned to kill my sister and myself if the Japanese landed and took the island. Fortunately, her resolve was never tested.

Two days later my stepfather arrived to take us home. In full uniform with a side arm, rifle with sling over his shoulder and an ammunition belt, he looked like a stranger. He was the first of the husbands to reappear, and all the ladies flung themselves on him crying and asking for news.

See Part 2 next week.

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