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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pearl Harbor Part Two: Life After the Bombing

The first thing done after getting home was to make our apartment safer in case of another attack. Blackout paper was put on all the windows. An old upright piano was moved in front of the living room windows to minimize any damage from broken glass if the windows were broken. Our bedrooms were upstairs, but now cots for my sister and me were set up in the living room to make it easier for us to get out should there be another attack. There were other changes as well. All the elementary school age children in the housing had attended school at Hickam Field. In addition to the damage done at Hickam during the bombing, all military bases were now under strict security. Our school was closed.

Everyone was issued a gas mask. My stepfather did not trust the masks being given the civilian population so arranged for us to have those issued to the Marines. In a time when all women carried a purse, a gas mask posed a problem. They were housed in big canvas bags, and the wartime regulations said you could not leave the house without it. Rather than carrying both a purse and gas mask, women simply transferred the contents of their purses to the bag holding the gas mask. The authorities vigorously opposed this practice, but to no avail.

Our nights were punctuated by the sounds of machine gun fire. Young sentries, alone and scared, saw an invading Japanese soldier in every shadow. Several times a week the air raid siren would blare as an unidentified plane was spotted. Because of the blackout the night was completely dark, and I thought the bright beams from the searchlights crisscrossing the sky in ever changing patterns were beautiful. Then too, the children in the housing were no longer able to do the things we usually did. No more riding our bicycles to the rec center, it had become a temporary hospital. No more going on the base to go swimming or to the Y for an ice cream cone. All military sites were off limits.

It is remarkable how quickly humans can adapt to change. Soon our lives under these new rules seemed normal---until Christmas. Normally Christmas trees were shipped to the islands in cargo vessels. Now all available space was reserved for essential items, and since Christmas trees were not considered essential, there were none. All the parents were trying hard to maintain a sense of normalcy for the sake of the children. Everyone was looking in vain for a Christmas tree. One day my stepfather came home wearing a big grin. He held up a brown paper bag from which he produced an artificial tree. It was only about fourteen or fifteen inches tall and unlike today's artificial trees, bore little resemblance to a real one. My sister and I were not impressed. The box of ornaments was brought out, and we began to decorate the tree as we had each year. Our stepfather put on a string of lights, my sister and I put on the ornaments and mother put on the icicles. A pillowslip was wrapped around the base of the tree to represent snow. Some of the lights had to be hidden under the "snow" as the string was too long for the little tree. The ornaments were too big and the icicles on the bottom branches lay on the table like pools of silver, but somehow it didn't matter. We had a shiny Christmas tree and Christmas was on the way. I remember that as one of the best Christmases I ever had. There was a feeling of warmth, of closeness, of caring that was almost tangible, a sense of being blessed somehow.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting your memories of Pearl Harbor.

    Eyewitness accounts of this period have always fascinated me, so it is great to hear your recollections.