Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pearl Harbor - 12/7/1941

Edgar remembers the day clearly. He was at an engagement party on a bright and sunny day in Philadelphia. This was LONG before the days of texting, twitter, cell phones, and instant communications. The floor model radio interrupted its background music program to announce the unthinkable - America had been attacked by Japan.
The guests left in a hurry. Nobody knew what would happen next.
About two hours later, newsboys ran up and down the streets, shouting WAR, and selling the Philadelphia Record with its gigantic headline. In those days, Philadelphia had four fibrant daily newspapers.
During one of our many trips to Hawaii, we sought out people who lived in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Russell Cades, a graduate of Philadelphia's Central High School, and the University of Pennsylvania undergrad and law schools, lived in Honolulu since the 1920's and headed the largest law firm in Honolulu, remembered that day clearly. "I stood outside my house on the hill and saw the bombs' falling and the return anti-aircraft fire."
Dr. Rodney West, who was born and raised in Hawaii helped shape the civilian emergency response team. He said that on December 7, early in the morning, he received a phone call from his father who lived on the Big Island. "This is not a test," his father said. Dr. West turned on his radio and heard the announcer say "this is the real McCoy." So, Dr. West phoned the others on his emergency response team and drove at top speed to the hospital on Ford Island. There was no connector bridge from the highway to the island so they all crouched low in a Boston Whaler while the attacking Japanese planes strafed the area. "I was hoping that they were all good shots and not aiming for us."
He and his fellow doctors treated the burn victims to the best of their abilities and were thankful that the bomb in the atrium was a dud and did not explode.
Dr. West and his fellow Hawaiians anticipated this attack and had organized all the groups they could - the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the Postal Employees, and other civilian groups. Each organization had a specific job to perform as soon as the attack began.
Russ, at the Ramsey Gallery, was taking a shower in his home on Maui. After the attack, word was sent out that all lights had to be extinguished during the night. He said that he waas just a kid and forgot about the "no lights" edict. He was still in the shower when a pounding at the frong door startled his mother. "You have a spy in your house," said the FBI agent, "who is signalling the enemy."
"My poor mother. It took her a second or two before she realized that I had turned on the light in the shower room."
"It's just my young son," she said, "taking a shower."
By that time, Russ had finished his shower, stepped out into the room with his angry mother and a stern faced FBI man. "I received quite a lecture," he said. "I've never felt quite the need for cleanliness since then. The FBI man told me that I was lucky I wasn't carted off to prison."
Another day, we spoke to a docent at the Iolani Palace. She remembered the zig-zag trenches that the soldiers dug outside her school. Every so often, "we had to practice running out of the school and hiding in the trenches."
But, that was nothing compared to the gas mask drills. "Each of us was issued a gas mask and we received minimal instruction on its use. Then, to be sure that we had mastered the complexities of gas mask use, the army put us in a room, told us to afix our gas masks, and turned on the tear gas. If we coughed, or choked, or cried we were pulled out and lectured that we had done it wrong and that if it was truly noxious gas, we would be dead." Then the military showed the students how to adjust the gas masks properly and "we passed the second test."
One day, while strolling along Kalakaua Avenue, we saw a throng of people with a couple of steam rollers. The street was covered with gold colored, jewel encrusted watches - all fakes - taken from the International Marketplace and all crushed under the watchful eyes of the police, fire department, ATF, FBI, INS, military, and us.
Helping to maintain order was a fire fighter. While talking, and asking questions, he told us that his Japanese father was an orderly at the hospital on Ford Island during the attack on Pearl Harbor. His father helped rescue many of the burn victinms from the water. When the sailors looked at him, some of them showed fear and questioned why a Japanese man was saving them when the Japanese planes atacked them. He also told us of a much older friend of his who had been hunting wild boar on the morning of Decmeber 7th. His friend saw the Japanese planes, heard the bombs, and aimed his rifle to the sky in a futile attempt to bring down the attack planes.
At the Makapu'u lighthouse, we met a couple from Indiana. His father had been stationed in Pearl Harbor, on board the Oklahoma. His father had been assigned a bunk on a low deck, but, just two days before, he was moved to the highest deck and thus survived the attack.
One more story. New planes arrived at Pearl Harbor and the navy pilots wanted to practice with them. So they flew all day Saturday and were then ordered to take the twin hulled P-38's back to base and stop practice. But, in good military tradition, the pilots ignored their orders and secreted the planes at a distant airfield. After the attack, the pilots took their planes to the air and startled the Japanese. The Japanese intentions, to destroy the oil reserves were thwarted by the sight of these three unexpected planes and - not knowing how many more, if any, were patrolling the skies, the Japanese decided to be satisfied with the destruction of the battleships and left.

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