As the years go by, it seems this day comes faster and this piece gets longer.
Every year, on December 7th, I publish my family story and memories of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Over the years, the number of people who read this grows, and many have told me that they look forward to receiving it. Each year I review, change, and add a little more, as memories prompt memories. This is my way of keeping Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, alive in my memory, and hopefully in yours as well.
To begin, I was very fortunate to have been raised by members of the “Greatest Generation,” and in the constant company of many who understood that the price of freedom is commitment and personal sacrifice. Part of their enduring legacy and gift to us is the preservation of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It sometimes feels to me that we take this for granted.
For me, all those who contributed to our war efforts are true heroes in every sense of the word. I didn’t realize it as much then as I do now. They conveyed their virtues and values to my generation by their acts and deeds, and to them I am forever grateful.
When I think of December 7, 1941, one word comes to mind,
Imagine, if you can, the sheer terror of those who lived it, and through it, and how they must have felt, as they witnessed the waves of Japanese planes attacking our Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and our Air Forces at nearby Hickam Field at about 7:00 AM that Sunday morning.
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and then…SURPRISE. As I learned from my folks, and later from my studies of Naval History at the Naval Academy, surprise was the first successful objective of the Japanese Fleet that morning. The US was fortunate, or was it “Divine Providence” that our carriers were at sea that morning. They were spared the destruction. Aircraft carriers then became instrumental to our success in the Pacific, and the entire war effort.
For those who experienced the attack, it was hard to imagine what was going on at first. My dad thought it was a drill…there was an initial lack of comprehension, followed by confusion, disbelief, and then, it was all about Duty. The task at hand: run into the fire, and not away from it. That is exactly what our servicemen and women did.
Imagine the terror, not knowing if the attack would continue to the general population around our key military installations on the Island, and not just the military resources, personnel and assets.
Imagine the terror, not knowing if the attack was a prelude to a full scale Japanese invasion of the Hawaiian Islands. The Japanese Army had a very bad reputation and the stories of how they treated prisoners of war in China were horrific.
Imagine the terror, and apprehension, of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines as Duty called then to abandon family and loved ones.
There was no time for preparation or long, or even short good-byes. Service members had to do whatever it took to get back to their duty station immediately, be it their ship, or one of our numerous military installations on the Island…Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Bellows Field, Fort Shafter.
Duty called. It had to be an agonizing decision, not knowing what would happen to those they loved. You had to leave your family and friends behind to fend for themselves in your absence, and knowing the horrific reputation of the Japanese treatment of those they took prisoner. To give you an idea of this reputation… The words rape, pillage and plunder would have been a dramatic understatement. Add torture, dismemberment, and desecration of the human body, and you get a better idea.
Imagine the terror, as friends and relatives on the Mainland US who had loved ones stationed in the Islands, heard the news of the attack. It was unthinkable. Their first thought was probably about the survival of their loved one, and on its heels to the country as a whole.
Imagine the continuing terror of not knowing who survived the attack and who didn’t.
I am the custodian of a treasured family memento, a copy of the telegram my grandparents in Detroit sent to my dad and mom on December 8, 1941. It is faded and frayed, but still readable…”Are you OK.” In 1941, there was little long distance telephone capability, no e-mail, no text messaging or Facebook…no instant communication to ease the anxiety of families and friends who had loved ones in the Hawaiian Islands that day.
While it is difficult, if not impossible to imagine the terror, I feel I know as well as anyone who was not there, the terror and apprehension of that day. I was raised in the company of fairly young adults who experienced the attack first hand. Both my mom and dad, and my mother’s mom and dad…my aunts and uncles, and their friends and families were there, and the attack on Pearl Harbor was not only a seminal event in their lives, but in mine as well. I heard their stories many times as a young boy, living in a post WWII Honolulu, right outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor.
For my father’s firsthand account of December 7, 1941, as he told the story to Jerry Bruckheimer (Producer of the movie Pearl Harbor) go to http://MarcusAndLaniKlein.com and click on “Pearl Story.”
My Dad passed away on January 15, 2005. My mom now lives in a retirement home in San Diego. Their story is an amazing one, like so many stories from that infamous day. Mom and Dad met in Hilo, Hawaii in January of 1941. My dad was a sailor, a Jewish kid, 23 years old, from Detroit. My mom was a 17 year old local girl (Hawaiian, Portuguese, English, and a little Chinese for good measure some say). They were married on June 28th, 1941 in Honolulu, by a Justice of the Peace. On Sunday Morning, December 7, 1941, they lived in Navy Housing Area 3 (NHA 3) on Ninth Street, a few blocks outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor. My Mother’s parents lived in a little shack on “P Road” in an area known as Damon Tract, which is now close to where the Honolulu International Airport is located.
Mom and Dad’s survival story of December 7 and the rest of the War is an amazing series of events. They were married for over 64 years, bound together by many things, including their experience from 1941 to 1945, their separations, and all that they endured together, and apart.
On December 7, 1941, young Sailors (E-4 and below) were not allowed overnight Liberty, unless they were married (Bluejacket’s Manual defines LIBERTY as permission to be absent from a ship or station for a period up to 48 hours). For this reason, Pop was not aboard ship on that Sunday morning but at home with Mom. Had he been single, he would have been aboard his ship, the USS Medusa, a repair ship (Dad always described it as a Battleship Tender) and he would have been killed as his battle station was the crow’s nest, which was completely destroyed in the attack by friendly fire (again, according to Pop). The joke in our family over the years was how by being married, my Mom saved my Dad’s life.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an awakening for the American People. As a nation, we did not want to be involved in the storm that was becoming a World War. But when our Fleet was destroyed, as President Roosevelt said, a sleeping giant was awakened and the United States of America recovered to defeat not one, but two formidable enemies, especially the Japanese.
The Japanese were committed to victory, honor, and to the emperor. As a young boy (I am 63 as I write this), I remember how eerie and unbelievable it was when I learned of pilots who were willing to sacrifice their lives and fly their planes into our ships, killing our sailors and themselves in the process. They were the suicide bombers, the Kamikazes. The Kamikaze pilots would leave their bases with their fuel tanks half full (probably half empty in this case). They had enough fuel to reach their target, and no fuel to return.
As unbelievable as that idea seemed to me as a boy, the concept seems mild today when we look at the present day suicide bombers. And the Japanese avoided killing innocents, which is the objective of today’s suicide bombers.
Growing up in Post War Pearl Harbor and Honolulu
My dad remained in the Navy and in the Islands after the War. I was born in 1949 at Aeia Naval Hospital. In 1952 pop was transferred to the USS Nereus in San Diego, where we lived until 1956.
In 1956, my Dad was a Chief Warrant Officer (W-2) and he was transferred to the Commander of the Submarine Force Pacific (SubPac) staff as Special Services Officer. My sisters and I spent a lot of time on the “Sub Base Pearl”, as living in Hawaii in those days was still sort of like living on a military outpost. Hawaii had not yet obtained statehood and was a US Territory (you had to get “shots” when you traveled there from the “Mainland”). When we moved back to the Islands, we lived in Navy Housing, Area 1, which at the time served as Junior Officer’s Quarters. The Duplex and Fourplex structures were made of cinder blocks. NHA 2 and NHA 3 were Enlisted Quarters and were of frame construction, shared with the termites. NHA 1, 2, and 3 were right outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor.
As the Special Services Officer for the Submarine Force, Pop was in charge of the Officers and Enlisted Clubs, swimming pools, hobby shops, movies, athletic facilities, recreational cabins at Barbers Point, and other recreational facilities. It cost a dime for a haircut, and a dime to attend the movie on the Sub Base. It is at the old sub base movie theater there that I saw the premier of Run Silent, Run Deep starring Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable. I still have the pens they gave away as mementos of the movie.
In the 1950s our living room furniture in our Navy Housing Quarters consisted of a rattan couch, two rattan chairs, two rattan end tables, a small round rattan coffee table with lahala mats covering the hardwood floors. After school and during the summer I would go out to play and stay out for hours, attired in shorts, no shirt and barefoot or at the most, “go-aheads“. Back then, you could buy a small bag of dried squid for a nickel…ling hi mui was also a favorite. Li Chi, mangos, papayas, guavas, star fruit, liliquoi (passion fruit) and coconuts were pretty easy to find growing in different places around the Island.
In 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades (1956-1958) we lived on Third Street and then Center Drive in NHA 1 and I attended Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary School. Our classrooms were war surplus Quonset huts and we had concrete bomb shelters in our back yards throughout Navy Housing — constant reminders of Sunday, December 7, 1941. To put this in a time context…in the 1950s, WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor were still recent history and in the memory of most adults. My parents were young adults during the War, and it was a defining event, if not THE defining event of their lives and generation. It was spoken of often over my life in a number of different social circles.
In the summer of 1959 we moved from Center Drive in Navy Housing to Foster Village on Salt Lake Blvd, where my parents purchased a home for $20,000. Single wall construction, built on a slab, no garage, no heating system, and on a 99 year ground lease.
Moving required that I change elementary schools. I attended Aliamanu Elementary School in 5th and 6th grades in 1959/60. Aliamanu was right across the street from Salt Lake Crater, which was, back then, a large lake (at least it seemed large to me back then). Today it is the Honolulu Country Club and Golf Course.
As a student at Aliamanu, I was the Captain of the JPOs (Junior Police Officers) and my JPO Advisor, who later in his life was a State Senator, was Jumbo Joe Kuroda. At the end of our street in Foster Village was a sugar cane field — acres and acres of sugar cane. The end of the street was not a “cul de sac” but a dead end with a barricade and a ditch. The ditch was easily jumped and was on the edge of the cane fields, where I was forbidden to go but went anyway, exploring and spending hours of my youth.
A Family Tradition
Happy Pearl Harbor Day – Every year since I left home when I was 19 years old in 1968 to attend the United States Naval Academy, I called my Dad on December 7th to wish him “Happy Pearl Harbor Day,” no matter where I happened to be in the world. One year I was deployed in the Western Pacific and in the Philippines at the proverbial “tip of the sword.” We talked about Pearl Harbor and where he and mom were that day, and what they were doing. I loved to hear my dad retell the story, year after year. I know it made him feel good to tell it.
My dad’s dream for me was that I attend the Naval Academy and become a commissioned officer in the US Navy, and it was all I ever knew or thought I wanted to be. I was fortunate, and on June 28, 1968, I entered the Naval Academy with the Class of 1972. Last month I found some old 8mm home movies (not Super 8) of the Class of 1972 Parents Weekend, which I had digitized. If you are interested, the clip features some of the beautiful sites of the “Yard,” the Midshipman’s term for the Academy — and lots of marching. Also Included in this clip is a scene with mom, dad, and VAM and Martha Grenfell.
After my dad, VADM Grenfell was one of my first heroes. Not because of his great accomplishments as a submarine skipper in the Pacific during WWII, which were many, but because he was an Admiral. This was something I aspired to be, not knowing what an Admiral actually did, but knowing that the route to get there, at least back then, usually began at the Naval Academy — and a few feet of film with mom, dad, and me at 19 years of age. There are also a number of cameo appearances of my classmates and roommates (one who went on to become a Four Star Admiral…who knew?).
My mom is almost 89 and I will visit her today at the nursing home and we will “talk story” about December 7, 1941 and about pop, and about how I would call him and wish him a “Happy Pearl Harbor Day” every year. She’ll probably bring up “the day I was born story.”
Happy Pearl Harbor Day, you might ask? According to pop, you bet. Happy to have survived. And happy to live in the United States of America.
What does Pearl Harbor mean to you?
Over the years, different members of our many online communities have shared their memories and Pearl Harbor stories, and we would love to hear yours, if you are so inclined. If not, I understand, but please wish everyone you see today a “Happy Pearl Harbor Day.”
Once again, for a survivor’s perspective of what happened on December 7, 1941 (Dictated in 1991 on the 50th Anniversary of the Attack by my Dad to my wife Janie), go to: http://MarcusAndLaniKlein.com and click on “Pearl Story.”
Happy Pearl Harbor Day to everyone.
Tomorrow, December 8, is the greatest football rivalry in the world, the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. I know loyal alums of other institutions may disagree with me, but save your e-mail, I’m not listening. GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY!