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Remembering Pearl Harbor – Part 2

Charles E. “Chuck” Harris History

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

At noon on Friday, December 5, I called John Rogers Airport to rent a plane on Sunday. Unfortunately the only time available was 7:30 AM. After few seconds of thought I decided that as too early for a Sunday morning, particularly in view of an invitation to a birthday dinner for Art Lambert on Saturday evening. The decision not to fly on Sunday turned out to be one my best ones. (More on that later)

The birthday dinner was at one of the plush restaurants in Waikiki and was a wonderful evening after the dinner I was driven back to our home.

I was fast asleep the next morning (December 7) when I heard Cliff outside saying in a loud voice: “Lady you’ve been dreaming. Go back to bed!” And then he came running into the house and turned on the radio. The initial reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were being broadcast. We just couldn’t believe it, but we were soon convinced. In addition to the raw report, they were announcing that all military personnel were to report to their duty stations immediately.

We knew there was many military in the large apartment house next to us, so we quickly dressed and in minutes were running up and down the hallways banging on doors. There were many replies. We then ran to the beach as fast as we could to look across the eater at Pearl Harbor. Dense black clouds of smoke were billowing skyward. We decided the best thing to do was to get to our office ASAP. There was no activity around the beach – no doubt people were still in bed and unaware of the tragedy that was occurring.

While we were debating our next step a group of Japanese planes, in loose formation and quite low, flew past us headed toward Diamond Head. According to Thurston Clarke’s book “Pearl Harbor Ghosts” , the second phase of the attack took place at 0840. The planes we saw were probably that phase. We ran back to the house, jumped in Cliff’s Packard, and sped toward Pearl Harbor. The thought of breakfast hadn’t even entered our minds. There was relatively little traffic. Latter, however, as the word of the attack got around, traffic apparently became dense.

(If the reader is interested in the entire story of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, “Pearl Harbor Ghost” is an excellent reference. Also, the newly published book “Pearl Harbor, The Day of Infamy” by Dan Van Der Vat, provides the latest analysis) CEH

As we passed Hickman Field, the view we had was nothing but tragic. The planes at Hickam had been lined up practically wing to wing in order to make it easier to guard against potential Japanese saboteurs. (Which was the principal threat at the time) This of course presented an ideal situation for the Japanese airmen. Just fly down that column of planes and bomb/strafe the hell out of them. We observed planes burning and many lying on their sides, particularly the old B-18’s. We also saw major damage to Hickam buildings. “The Army Air Force in World War II” volume 1, (the University of Chicago Press) states: “A group of B-17’s had left Hamilton Field, CA, the prior evening on the first leg of a flight to the Philippines and arrived over Oahu in midst of the attack. Three of the planes flew through antiaircraft and enemy machine gun fire to land at Hickam. The remaining flights landed at other locations on Oahu. Of the 14 planes that had left Hamilton Field, one was destroyed and three badly damaged”

As we entered the gate at Pearl Harbor the guard looked us over carefully, checked out ID’s, made sure we didn’t look Oriental, and waved us on. Upon arrival at our office there were a few others there; within the hour many more arrived, including Commander Johnson, and a little later Lieutenant Lipp. Where was Art Lambert? We found out the next day that, living on the mountainside above the Harbor, Art had been one of the first to arrive at Pearl. With his knowledge he immediately went to work loading ammunition onto the battleship S.S. Pennsylvania, which was in dry-dock. Unfortunately, the heavy loads involved seriously strained his back.

After consultations at the office we were told to return home, do what we could in the community, and to report back early the next day.

Much as we would have liked to have walked down to the harbor, sightseeing didn’t appear appropriate. Somebody mentioned donating blood at Tripler Arm Hospital. It seemed like and excellent idea, so we headed there. Many civilians were gathering to give blood: we were there the rest of the morning.

Among the radio announcements that day was the declaration of Martial Law for the islands, a complete nightly blackout, and a curfew during darkness. While the three of us were waiting to give blood, we wondered how an apartment could be blacked out without completely covering the windows. Someone came up with the bright idea of covering them with tarpaper. On the way home, after leaving the hospital, we found a hardware store that was open and purchased a suitable amount of paper plus a hammer and tacks. As there were few windows in our apartment, covering them was not a big deal. Very few Waikiki people had that idea, but it soon caught on.

I previously mentioned turning down the opportunity to rent a plane at John Rogers at 7:30 AM. Again from “Pearl Harbor Ghosts:” there were five rented small planes in the air when the attack occurred at 7:55. Two of the small planes, each with two Army personnel aboard, were shot down over the ocean. Another was flying sufficiently high that it was above the attacking planes. Flight instructor Cornelia Fort saw a bomber, which she assumed was American, coming directly toward her. At the last moment before a possible collision she jerked her plane upward thinking it was a reckless pilot; then she say the red circles on the wings. A father and son were at 2,000 feet when they saw a bomb explode on Ford Island, then saw the attacking planes. They stayed at 2,000 feet and observed the entire attack, afraid to land.

At John Rogers Airport, Bib Tyce was boarding a plane when Japanese fighters strafed the Airport. Bob was killed and is officially listed as the first civilian casualty of the war. Over the years, when thinking of December 7, 1941, I have often wondered what my fate would have been had I rented a plane at 7:30 AM.

During the weeks following the attacks, rumor and stories concerning sabotage, spying, etc. (practically all false) were rampant to due to the high percentage of Japanese residents on the islands. We now know that that the imposition of martial law and curfew were primarily due to this unjustified fear of Japanese sabotage. A surprise aerial attack by the Japanese was apparently never seriously considered by top military officials, hence the lining up of battleships at Pearl Harbor and the wingtip to wingtip alignment of the planes at Hickam Field. Since that time we have learned that messages warning of the attack were received in Washington, but were not relayed to the Commanders at Pearl n time for them to prepare for the attack.

(A personal note by CEH: There are still some in our country who believe that Pearl Harbor was allowed to occur in order to get the Untied States into the war against the Axis Powers. “Pearl Harbor Ghosts” dedicates an entire chapter to this proposition, and concludes that the surprise element was the result of personnel errors, bad judgments and communication failures. In 1941 the general feeling was that our Navy was so powerful that the distance from Japan made an attack on Pearl Harbor out of the question: the primary problem was perceived to be possible sabotage by Japanese residents of Hawaii.

When we drove to the Harbor early on December 8 we were, of course stopped at the gate. Cliff in his rear view mirror saw a staff car with a 4-star license plate approaching. It was Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. His staff car pulled up beside us to a near stop. We had a good look at the Admiral as he passed and returned the salute of the military police. I know we all thought, “I sure wouldn’t want to be in his shoes today.

Upon arrival at our office things were still somewhat unsettled, but obviously some planning had been done since the previous mourning. I was told that Japanese 2-man midget submarine had been sunk in the harbor on the 7th. It was one of four midgets that had attacked ships near and in the harbor. This meant a substantial change to the dimensions of the net of my unfinished design. Back to the drawing board. I finished the revised design in about a week: I never heard whether the net was ever constructed or installed. Another change put our office on 10-hour, seven day work schedule.

Later that week Art and I made out first noontime visit to the docks since the attack. The Pennsylvania had departed, leaving two destroyers, the Cassin and Downes in dry-dock. This was our first view of the results of the attack. Both destroyers were horribly mangled. As comparison, they looked like autos after a tragic accident. Further on were the cruiser Helena and the minelayer Oglala the later laying on her side. Looking across the water to Ford Island, we could see the tragedy of out battleships. The Oklahoma was on her side, the keel showing. She was one of the seven battleships moored along Ford Island, perfect targets for the Japanese attackers. Many of the ships were critically damaged.

As we preceded father along the docks, we could see the Arizona across the water. The smoldering battleship was lying on the bottom of the harbor with her mangled upper structure showing above the water line. The week before, Seaman Kenneth Kennard, from my hometown, had dinner with us. He was stationed aboard the Arizona. His remains are one of the 1102 still entombed in the Arizona, today a WWII Memorial.

Other critically damage battleships we could see were the West Virginia, which was also settled on the harbor bottom, the victim of seven torpedoes and California, also on the bottom.

During this twenty-minute walk we saw most of the disaster inflicted on our fleet, which had been detailed in many books and articles. We could not see but knew there as a terrible human loss caused by the attack. The human and material losses cannot be equated.

Three aircraft carriers, the Lexington, Yorktown, and the Enterprise were stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. the Hornet arrived a few weeks later. Fortunately, the three were at sea that Sunday morning. Had they been in port one can only conjecture what might have happened to them?

Beginning with the battle of Midway, the four carriers were our primary fighting force against the Japanese, complimented with bomber support from the Army Air Force. As the war proceeded into the South Pacific with Guadalcanel, Iwo Jima, and other island battles, we relied heavily upon our carriers, later supported by battleships.

It is useless to try and conjecture whether, without carriers, the US could have won the war against the Japanese. It is certainly questionable.

In Hawaii commercial passenger ships deferred further trips to the Islands after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The first passenger ship to arrive was the Matson Liner Lurline, which sailed into Honolulu harbor shortly before Christmas. She was bringing not only passengers but also Christmas presents.

On December 24, it was announced in Honolulu papers and over the local radio that packages that arrived from the States would be available for those in the Waikiki area at a park near the Moana Hotel. Identification would be required.

So on Christmas morning, we decided to get to the park early. When arrived we found the packages had been dumped into a huge pile on the grass and it was up to each citizen to find his or her own Christmas package. We started searching. I finally found a package with my name on it. Cliff and Harry also found packages. It you have searched for luggage in an airport, n=magnify that by perhaps ten. It was great to get our mail, afterwards we regretted that we had not brought a camera with us to have a pictorial record of Christmas in Hawaii, 1941.

After Christmas the three of us decided that the location of our house on Oahu Avenue was too isolated under the new conditions. We lucked into a furnished duplex on Seaside Avenue just a block from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The other half of the duplex was rented by Billy McDonald, the leader of the Waikiki band that played at one of the local dinner clubs. The manager of the complex was rather cool to the idea of renting to three young men, but apparently Harry’s suave manner turned the trick. We had maid service ever day. (Sometime later our maid told us our apartment was the neatest in the complex!)

Due to the curfew and the confined feeling it gave, we would sometimes sit on the curb in the evening to enjoy the beautiful Hawaiian weather. To cross the street would violate the curfew. On one particular evening, I head the sound of Hawaiian music from across the street ion the grass park. A small group of Hawaiian musicians with a singer were “letting go.” I sat on the curb listening and enjoying for a few minutes, then thought “what the hell,” moseyed across the street and sat down on the lawn. Other neighboring residents were doing the same; a good-sized crowd soon gathered.

Sometime later many people go up and hastily left. I though little of it until I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the police! Those who had seen the paddy wagon approaching had wisely departed. The rest of us were taken to the police department for booking! The charge: violation of the curfew and distributing the peace. In view of the absence of night transportation, the police were kind enough to drive us back to our homes after we were fingerprinted and written up. I now had an arrest record! A few day later I received a written notice to appear before the Military Court in Honolulu.

The court scene is worth describing. Prior to getting around to us “vicious” types, there were several people tried for all sorts of crimes, major to minor, including murder, robbery, and prostitution. The trails were held without defense attorneys and each took just minutes. The military judge would ask a few questions, the accused would briefly give his or her side of the story. In every case guilty verdicts were awarded. Sentences were as high as 20 years in Oahu prison. It was a real eye-opener.

For some reason I was the first one of our group to be questioned. I explained that I had merely crossed the street from my home and the reason I was attested was because I was nearly asleep listening to the music and unlike the others, did not see the approaching police. I must have brought tears to the face of that hard-nosed judge as I was the first one that morning to get an acquittal . I hastily left the courtroom. I will never know whether I set a precedent for the others who had been arrested with me.

The fortunate thing about my acquittal is that when questioned about any prior convictions of a crime, I can always say no, but I cannot say that I have never been arrested.

One of the interesting aspects of our new home on Seaside Avenue was that Billy McDonald had many Navy friends, primarily flyers from aircraft carriers. When their carrier was in port they ended up staying with Billy. We would often have over for a drink and lots of chat. They were always careful, but we could usually ready between the lines. One of the fliers, Lt. Charley Ware, a dive-bomber pilot on the carrier Yorktown, was killed in the battle of Midway. Lt. “Buster” Hoyle, a fighter pilot on the U.S.S. Enterprise, became one of the first Aces of WWII. When a girl friend congratulated him on becoming an Ace, Buster modestly said, “Well the British pronounce it ‘oss.’”

The movie director John Ford, then a Navy Commander, had the duplex behind us. With him was a huge hulk of a man, Jack Penoch, a bit player in all of Ford’s movies. In addition to his size, Jack had a face that can never be forgotten. He quite frequently came over to visit with us and we found him to be a very interesting and likeable character. One on occasion Cliff was trying unsuccessfully to open a couple of fresh coconuts. Jack said, “Here let me do that for you.” He took those coconuts in his huge hands, pressed them together and they broke. The down side was that coconut milk was all over out carpet. Since the war I have seen Jack in many old movies.

In 1942 it was very difficult to by liquor. Ingenious citizens found that pineapple juice could be fermented in a bathtub into a drink known as Pineapple Swipes. The Swipes that we brewed were terrible substitutes for bottled liquor, but it was that or nothing. We survived.