Count me as one. I was two, my brother one, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941.
My brother and I were born in Honolulu where our paternal grandfather, a Scots immigrant, was a principal in a successful business called the Honolulu Iron Works. My father, a graduate of the Punahou School, same as our President, spent much of his youth surfing and spent his evenings in white dinner jackets.
By the end of the war he was loading submarines at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco. He’d cashed in because, like most Islanders, he assumed the Japanese would follow-up their successful blitz of America’s Pacific defenses with a ground invasion, and Pop preferred to be among the missing when that inevitability occurred.
The morning of the infamous day, we’d been up before dawn demanding, as family lore has it, ice cream cones. We were in the car as the sun rose and with it came wave after wave of low-flying planes swooping in over us and central Honolulu. We drove obliviously on as the planes devastated the American fleet where it was conveniently assembled in Pearl Harbor, their crews slumbering, many eternally.
“The planes were flying so low I could see the pilots,” my father remembered. “I still thought it was some kind of maneuvers. There was smoke coming from Pearl Harbor, but most people simply assumed there had been an explosion and a fire. There were lots of people out in the streets watching the planes coming in.”
My father said quite a few spectators were recreationally strafed as the Japanese flew back out to sea. He didn’t know what was happening until we got home. It hadn’t occurred to him that the planes were hostile. That thought hadn’t occurred to much of anyone in Honolulu until they were either shot at or a stray bomb fell on their neighborhood. The Japanese, as always on-task, mostly confined themselves to military targets and, of course, forty years later, held the paper on our mortgages.
Some 20 minutes after the attack had begun, my father stopped to buy us our coveted ice cream cones, which were served up by an unperturbed clerk, and we drove on home. “Nobody had any idea that the Japanese would do such a thing,” my father said whenever he talked about December 7th. “They were too far away and America had no quarrel with them.”
Arriving home, my father famously complained to my mother that “These military maneuvers are getting a little too goddam realistic.” My mother, who’d always regarded her husband as something of a Magoo-like figure, informed her mate that the Japanese were attacking both Pearl Harbor and, it seemed, Honolulu, where errant bombs aimed at Hickham Field had already destroyed homes and businesses of non-combatants. She’d turned on the radio when she’d heard explosions. One of the first things she learned was that a bomb had obliterated the area where we’d made our ice cream purchase.
Years later, a hippie told me that I’d eluded the random wrath of the Japanese because I had “good karma.” I think it was more a case of God’s high regard for idiots and children.
My father was exempt from military service because he had a wife and children, but he was pressed into service as a member of a sort of impromptu Honolulu home guard — (Honolulu in 1941 was about the size of today’s Santa Rosa) — called the Business Man’s Training Corps, or BMTC. My mother had much ribald enjoyment at the abbreviation, and was even more delighted at the sight of my father togged out as a World War One Doughboy, the only uniforms available.
The BMTC wouldn’t have been much of a match for the Japanese Imperial Army which, fortunately, never appeared on Waikiki. The Japanese had surprised themselves by the unopposed success of their attack on Pearl Harbor and had not prepared to land an occupying ground force.
December 7th was a major trauma for America. For our family, too. Pop made plans to head for the Mainland as soon as he could wrap up his affairs and get on a boat, but he wanted to accomplish both without being derided as a slacker for fleeing. It took him another year to make it stateside. As he cashed in his chips and continued to spend his days surfing and sitting around in the dark at night behind blackout curtains, he put my mother and his two toddlers on a troop ship for San Francisco.
My mother was a registered nurse who’d worked at Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, also the birthplace of our President contrary to what the racists and remedial readers say. She remembers daily submarine alerts all the way across the Pacific during which everyone, including the women and children on board, trundled over the side by rope nets into lifeboats. Mom recalls that the two of us infants loved being handed off like a couple of footballs up and down the side of the ship, but the daily alarms and exertions terrified her and everyone else on board.
But we made it through the Golden Gate unscathed, and were soon ensconced at the Fairmont Hotel, the evacuation center for people fleeing Hawaii.
* * *
Joint Address To Congress Leading to a Declaration of War Against Japan (1941),
by Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.
As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
But always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounding determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.