Free Patterns

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pearl Harbor Part Three: Evacuation

This is the final installment of my account of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. As an adult I returned to Hawaii twice. Each time I resided there for several years before returning to California. Other than the obvious memorials, I saw little to remind one of the events of that day.

In February of 1942 we were told we would be going back to the states. Our convoy was made up of the Lurline, the Aquitania and the U.S. Grant as well as various naval vessels whose job it was to protect us should a Japanese submarine appear. The Lurline was a luxury liner commandeered for the job. Most of the military dependents being evacuated from Hawaii were aboard the Lurline. The Aquitania was a British luxury liner that had sailed, without escort, from Australia to join our convoy. The Grant was an old transport reacquired by our Navy in 1940. We were on the Grant along with a handful of other women and children, a large number of soldiers being transported I know not where, and Japanese prisoner of war number one. He had been the commander of a mini sub that had run aground off Barber's Point. He had failed to self-destruct as he was suppose to, and had been captured. The prisoner evidently felt a deep sense of shame at being captured, and great care was taken to see that he did not jump overboard on his daily walk on the deck. However, in a moment of relative privacy he did manage to burn his cheeks with a lighted cigarette, the only means left him to atone.

Those aboard the Lurline had lovely cabins, lounges and dining area. The Grant was Spartan. My mother, my sister and I had a small cabin with two metal bunks and a metal cot. However, in some ways we were the fortunate ones. The Grant was part of a fleet accustomed to emergencies. We were well provisioned. Even the ship's store was open and well stocked. The Lurline had to ration fresh water. While they had plenty of hotdogs and ice cream, toward the end of the voyage other menu items were running low.

The soldiers aboard the Grant had even fewer amenities than we civilians did. They were assigned bunks below deck. Some even had to put up a hammock in which to sleep. As their quarters were warm, close and rather smelly, they spent as much time as they could on deck. They were not allowed to mix with the civilians so huddled in a designated area at the bow of the ship where they were subjected to the motion of the sea and a constant wetting down from spray.

And so we sailed across the Pacific zigging and zagging. Never mind that the Aquitania had sailed across hundreds of miles of ocean and had not seen a single Japanese submarine, ship or plane, the Navy went by the book. Every morning rumors flew; a periscope had been sighted during the night, a ship had been seen. If you asked how the teller knew, they always replied a sailor had told them. It was obvious even to me that the sailors were having fun with the more gullible ladies aboard. The first few days out we had a number of general quarters drills. We had been told that when the Claxton sounded we were to go immediately to our cabins and wait five minutes. From there we were to go to the dining room where everyone would be told what to do. To my knowledge everyone complied, everyone but me. I was miserably seasick from the moment I came aboard and was not about to leave my bed to go below decks where the air was stale and the motion of the ship even more pronounced. When the others went below I sat or lay on my bunk. (There were no chairs in the cabin.) I could hear the men at their battle stations, officers hollering orders and the firing of the ship's guns. I felt part of a big adventure.

One morning we awoke to find we were all alone. The convoy had steamed on without us. The Grant had a developed a problem with the rudder, and we had been steaming in circles for much of the night. As it turned out, the rest of the convoy had been moving very slowly in order that we might catch up so when the rudder was repaired it did not take long to find them. On another occasion one of our escort vessels steamed off over the horizon to investigate a ship sighting but soon returned having determined it was nothing. In truth it was an uneventful voyage.

Before we disembarked in San Francisco there was a meeting in which we were told not to reveal anything that happened at Pearl Harbor. My mother sat there, very attentive, while hiding the first newspaper printed after the bombing under her blouse. It was printed before censorship and would have been confiscated had they known she had it. It was not shown to anyone when we got home but became the first page of a large collection of scrapbooks she kept on the war. I am sure every one took their responsibility very seriously. My sister and I certainly did and never responded to questions about what had happened.

When we landed the Red Cross met us at the dock. We were surprised to find out we were "refugees". The Red Cross ladies had warm clothes, hot coffee and donuts ready for us. They transported us to local hotels where each family made their own arrangements to go home. Home for my mother, my sister and myself was San Diego, California where we, like the rest of the country, waited.