#315–Surviving aftermath of Pearl Harbor . . .

My story is not harrowing, but I was there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. I was one month old, so I have no memory of the attack. But my Mom did. We lived in Honolulu in a house with other wives and children of Navy service men stationed there. This is our story told through my mom’s words that I recorded in 1991 when she was 79.

Here I am at 10 weeks old.

Here is how she remembered the morning of the attack:

“Early in the morning on December 7, I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to feed Judy some Pablum. I gave her a bottle, which she promptly threw up.  My sister, Edna, joined me at the table, we commented on the extra loud maneuvers. It was unusual since it was a Sunday. Evie (my cousin who was beetween 10-12) went out to see a friend.

“It wasn’t long before Evie came dashing back in with tears streaming down her face shouting, ‘Turn the radio on! Something horrible’s happened!’

“We turned the radio on. The first thing we heard was, ‘Everybody keep calm. The Japanese Imperial Fleet has bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor!’ {Just remembering this gives me cold chills.)

“About half an hour later, the voice on the radio said, ‘We have just been bombed and are going off the air! Please, keep calm!’

“We ran out in the yard and looked up just in time to see seven bombers. They were quite low, and we realized they were Japanese. We ran back inside.

Mom giving me a bottle.

“I put Judy down in an old buggy that I used as a crib. Just as I laid her down, a bomb hit not too far away. She just bounced right back up into my arms. (Ironically, that bomb hit a Japanese girl’s school. Fortunately, it was Sunday and nobody was there.)

“Later the radio came back on. We were told not to go out of the house and everything was to be kept closed and all lights off after dark. For three days, we weren’t allowed out of the house. The authorities thought the island would be invaded.

“After those three days, the authorities still didn’t know if the Japanese were going to invade, but they had a plan. In the district we lived in, everyone was to pack a bag with one week’s supplies and be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice for the Punchbowl. We got ready but never had to go.”

The Punchbowl is a volcanic crater outside of Honolulu. And since 1948, it has been home to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and is the resting place for 53,000 service men and women. In 1941, though, it was a huge empty crater that could be a hiding place in the event of an invasion.

My Dad was one lucky sailor.

My mother was in Hawaii because my Dad was in the Navy and stationed there—that is until September 1941, when his tour of duty was up. He opted to be discharged stateside and would send for Mom and me when he got settled. He was one of the luckiest people that ever lived. He had been aboard the USS Oklahoma, which did not survive the Pearl Harbor attack. It was bombed, exploded, capsized, and sank with 242 lives lost. Timing is everything!

Here are more of my mom’s remembrances:

“We were told to put up blackout curtains as soon as possible. If even one little crack of light was showing, you could be picked up and taken to jail. We got some heavy denim for our windows.

“Right after the attack, the order went out to dig a bomb shelter. Evie dug most of ours. It was basically a hole in the ground big enough for a couple of people to hide in––if they ducked down. Right behind us lived the Pedros, who were pure Hawaiian and had several children. They dug the grandest bomb shelter I ever saw. It was about 25 feet by 8 feet with tables and chairs and all kinds of supplies. Compared to the Pedros, ours was a poor excuse for a bomb shelter.

Evie in the bomb shelter.

“We didn’t really know how bad the attack was until about four days after the attack. Roy Johnson, my doctor’s nurse’s son from Long Beach, was in the Navy and stationed on the USS Nevada. He came to see us. He had been to visit before the attack.

“That poor boy––only 19––was still all covered with dirt and grime and had on a uniform that was much too big. He’d borrowed the uniform because he’d lost everything he had in the attack. He even had to bum carfare to come see us.

“He came in, sat down, and burst into tears. He was still in shock. Since the attack, he had been helping find the wounded and the dead among the wreckage. It was a horrifying experience for him, and he was a mess.

“He needed to get cleaned up. We didn’t have a hot water tank, so we boiled water, poured it in the bathtub with some cooler water, and he took a bath. Afterwards we let him sleep in one of our beds. While he slept, I took his uniform over to our neighbor who took it in so that it would fit him better. After he awoke and dressed, we gave him a good dinner. He looked and felt like a new person when he went back to Pearl Harbor.”

Roy Johnson, my mothers doctor’s nurse’s son, stopped by when he could. Here he is with me.

The USS Nevada, as the only maneuverable battleship in the harbar after the initial attack, put up a heroic battle, using all the firepower it could muster in spite of being torpedoed once, bombed numerous times, and strafed over and over. The crew were able to put out the fires, but too many leaks caused serious flooding. The ship was beached and slowly sank in shallow water. Of the 1,500 crew and officers only about 50 lost their lives. Later, the Nevada was raised, repaired, and returned to fight the war.

Mom was told that pregnant military dependents and mothers with babies would be leaving December 19 on the first convoy back to the states, but that didn’t happen. A few weeks after the attack, the district where we lived was designated a safe area. After that, the Navy wasn’t in any hurry to get family members back to the states. So, six months went by before we could leave.

Here are more of Mom’s remembrances:

“Judy and I and Edna and Evie boarded the USS Wharton––a troop transport––on May 4, 1942. The ship sat in the harbor until May 6, keeping everyone guessing as to when we would leave. We were on that ship eight days before getting off in San Diego.

“The Wharton was the flag ship of the convoy and in the center. Destroyers were protecting us and the other ships also in the convoy. We spent a lot of time in evasive maneuvers. We zigzagged all over the Pacific, avoiding submarines. I remember spending one day and night when the ship was outrunning one particular Japanese sub. During that run, the whole ship was shaking because we were going so fast.

Mom and Dad reunited after harrowing trip from Hawaii to Seattle.

“We were supposed to come into San Francisco to a great big welcome with Navy bands, the Red Cross, and friends and relatives. My two best friends were there and had a reception all set up for us. But we weren’t there.

“Our ship left the convoy the night before, unbeknownst to the passengers. The next morning, we were very surprised and frightened to find ourselves alone without the rest of the convoy. Down in the hold of the Wharton were wounded and dead Marines. The ship was headed straight for the Naval hospital in San Diego. We were the only ship in our convoy to miss the big welcome in San Francisco.”

The Red Cross came to the rescue initially. Then my mom contacted her Aunt Nettie in Los Angeles. We took the train to LA and stayed with Aunt Nettie and her family until Mom was able to contact Dad in Seattle. Before long, he sent money for train fair. Then after a long train ride, Mom and Dad were reunited. And Dad got to see his daughter for the first time––far from Hawaii and the horrors of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Note: Dad reenlisted early in 1944 and stayed in until after war’s end. The quotes from Mom were from my first book––Chuck and Jean: The Interesting Years.

About crossingsauthor

Judy Fleagle spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.Since 2009, she has written five books: "Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges," "The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans," "Around Florence," "Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known," and "The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!."
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1 Response to #315–Surviving aftermath of Pearl Harbor . . .

  1. Phyllis Bright says:

    Thanks for sharing their story. The memorial in Honolulu is a very solemn place and rightfully so.

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