Recollections of Pearl Harbor–Looking Back Seventy-Four Years

Posted by on Dec 7, 2015 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments

By Perry Smith

Every Sunday morning throughout the year 1941, my sister and I would be picked up from our small, rented home in Honolulu and taken to Sunday School. My father, an Army captain, was stationed at Fort Ruger which was located on the slopes of Diamond Head.

At about 7:15 AM on the morning of 7 December, 1941, we climbed into the canvas-covered Army truck, and sat down on the benches. I always grabbed a seat closest to the rear of the truck since I had a motion sickness problem. Along the way the truck would pick up other children. Our destination was a small chapel at an Army post (Fort Derussy) quite close to Hickam Field.

At the front gate, we were stopped and after a very brief and animated discussion between the driver and an Army captain, the truck made a rapid turn around. The next twenty minutes were very scary for this six year old and my eight year old sister. We had to grab the benches to stop us for being thrown out of the truck as it careened around the back roads of Honolulu.

Out the back of the truck, I saw lots of smoke and some airplanes but the only noise I remember was the noise of our fast moving truck. When we arrived home, my mother was in the front yard, she gave us both a big hug and hurried us to the small basement where we spent the rest of the day.

We listened to the radio and tried to get ready for the invasion of Japanese troops. School was cancelled for the rest of the year.  I spent much of my time in the next few weeks with a small shovel helping my next-door neighbor dig a bomb shelter. I remember Christmas of 1941 as a gloomy one—news around the world was bad and the possibility of a Japanese invasion of the Hawaiian Islands loomed in the background.

Soon after the attack, a decision was made that dependents of military professionals and other “non-essential personnel” would be evacuated to the mainland of America. Hence, in February, 1942, my sister, mother, grandmother and I climbed on what became a very overcrowded ship.

 The ship was designed to carry nine hundred passengers. Two thousand—mostly women and children– climbed up the gangplanks that day. Anyone over the age of forty was given a life preserver but was not allocated a seat on a life boat. My grandmother would have gone down with the ship, if we had been sunk by a Japanese submarine.

By April of 1942, we had moved to my uncle’s home in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. My dad was still in Hawaii and since he had no home, my aunt and uncle invited us to stay with them. It was quite a transition from barefoot Hawaii to heavy coats and boots in Northern Minnesota.

When my second grade teacher learned that I had witnessed the Japanese attack, she insisted that I give a talk to my class on my recollections of that momentous day. Hence by age 7, I had watched a war start, learned about the rationing of life and made my first public speech.

My memories are quite vivid even though seventy-four years have passed. Every time there is a major international crisis that impacts America, I try to compare it to the early days of America’s involvement in World War II.

The period from December 1941 until June of 1942 was a very scary time for Americans. Japan was on the march throughout Asia and Nazi Germany had conquered most of Western, Northern and Eastern Europe. It was not yet clear that America would create the “Arsenal of Democracy” which would out produce all of our adversaries. In 1942, it was uncertain that Britain could hold out long enough for the British Isles to serve as a launching platform for the invasion of France and the defeat of the German Empire.

In the past three quarters of a century, there have been a number of occasions when the American republic was in grave danger. In an article that will be published next Sunday these crises will be examined. Each period will be compared to the early1940s when America became fully and permanently involved in world affairs.

The following will be analyzed: the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the 1991 Gulf War, 9/11 and its aftermath, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the ISIS threat today.  Perhaps an  historical analysis can help us better understand the threats and the opportunities of the next decade or two.

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