As I have noted before, my father was at Pearl Harbor. More exactly, he was in the Army and based in Honolulu. The most he ever said about it was, “I was AWOL on Waikiki Beach.” Years later I found the journal he kept. The first entry is dated “Saturday, Dec. 13, 1941. 3:15 P.M.” It is typed on onionskin paper, now yellowed and brittle with age. He left very narrow margins — less than 2cm all around — to save paper. It was, after all, wartime.
This is the seventh day. I suppose I had better start from the beginning, or as near the beginning as I can.
Sunday morning, with Ben Glasser and Harold Davis, I went over to see Sam & Ellen Jacobs. I was due to go on guard that afternoon, but until then I was to help Sam clean up his yard. When we walked into the house, just a few minutes after eight, Ellen said something about a radio broadcast requesting all service men to return to their posts. I couldn’t understand it, inasmuch as we had just left, so I concluded that she had misunderstood the announcer. However Ben and Harold were a little uneasy so Harold decided to phone. Just then someone turned on the radio and I heard, “I repeat, the Islands are under attack. All police officers will please report to their stations immediately.” At the sometime we heard anti-aircraft fire, which to ben Sounded like 155’s. We wasted time but said goodbye on the way out, and hurried back to DeRussy. At the guardhouse I stopped for a drink of water and Sergeant Black, who was Sergeant-of-the-Guard, told me to get back to the battery as quickly as possible.
All this while I couldn’t believe that we were actually fighting. But still, I couldn’t convince myself that the military and naval authorities would be so foolish as to cry wolf, so from the moment I left the Jacobs’ until the time I saw Pearl Harbor aflame I was constantly debating with myself.
To get back: when we reached the battery we quickly climbed out of our civvies and into fatigue pants and o.d. shirt; shouldered our packs and grab the nearest rifles. Then we hotfooted across the parade ground to the gun-square where Ben was told to report to East Group and I was ordered to Battery Randolph. Harold had been a little quicker than either of us and I don’t remember when it was that I saw him next. I haven’t seen Ben since.
At Randolph I found most of the men already sweating with the ammunition. No one was pissing, we just kept the stuff running, a pretty steady rate, from the magazine to the spot where a truck was backed up and being loaded. After a while we got ahead of the truck, despite the fact that almost half of the men had been called back tot eh guns to help unload. But we didn’t slow up, just kept going back and forth. One of the first things I remarked upon to myself was that the stuff didn’t seem to be nearly as heavy as we had found it at Sand Island only the week before. We were so busy that we had no time to be tired — that’s the way I explain it now.
Every so often we could look up and see dogfights. AA bursts were clouding the sky, some of them breaking nowhere near a target. We concluded that their barrage was one of the main factors in driving off the enemy. Once we heard a loud report from the general direction of our guns and I thought that we were firing trial shot since most of the enemy had already disappeared. Later I learned that it was a bomb exploding somewhere the other side of Kalakauna Avenue. Anderson thinks it was a fragment from this bomb which almost struck him as he was standing outside the latrine, but I believe it was a piece of shrapnel from one of our own guns. When I heard about [it], during a slight break in the ammo carrying, I felt rather angry. What the hell do they want to go around bombing Calamaria’s craphouse for, I thought to myself.
So he wasn’t AWOL, and he wasn’t on Waikiki Beach. He simply didn’t want to talk about it. That chapter in his life was closed; I suppose not talking about it was the best way he had of keeping the past in the past and the door well shut. That diary cracked the door open. No wonder he left it in the most remote corner of his desk drawer. It was probably the first time those pages saw the light of day since he typed them.
Seventy-nine years ago today, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was also my aunt’s 21st birthday, a fact not recorded in my father’s journal. She — his younger sister — is 100 years old today: a centenarian. She has seen wars begin and end, presidents and congressmen and senators come and go: people and things that seem in their moment eternal turn out to be just passing through. Today I wish I could be there to celebrate — with friends, with family. With cake.
I’ve been plotting a trip to the Left Coast for a visit, but it’s obviously not to be undertaken right now. The best I can do is say, “Happy Birthday, Chane!” My birthday wish (though it’s not *my* birthday) is that this pestilence — of Biblical proportions — finally exits the scene. With luck, soon, and we can have a long visit, long overdue. I’ll even bring cake.
One thought on “Pearl Harbor Day”
Wow! How astonishing a report. And what a lovely reminder of what our troops face. I wish you could see your aunt today, too.