Hawaii School Reports - Pearl Harbor Accounts

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Pearl Harbor World War II

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For the United States, the Second World War started in Hawaii with the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor is a large Navy base and harbor on the south coast of the island of Oahu. It was not the only place attacked by the Japanese that day.

map.gif (97912 bytes)Wheeler Army Air Field in the center of the island was also attacked. The Army was just as surprised and unprepared as the Navy. Read Sergeant Jack Spangler's account of getting bombed on his way to breakfast. The only plane he shot down that day was a U.S. Navy fighter.

Navy Chief Petty Officer John Finn was in bed with his wife at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay when the Japanese planes struck. He drove to the hanger and began removing machine guns from parked aircraft to fire at the enemy. After the first attack, Chief Finn organized his men and began setting up additional machine gun positions. He finally got to the hospital the next day, and they kept him until December 24th caring for his numerous wounds. Nine months later Lieutenant John Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack.

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Eighteen people died at the Kaneohe Air base, and were buried with full military honors and a Hawaiian flower lei.

The Japanese also attacked Marine Corps Ewa Mooring Mast Field. The mooring mast refers to a large pole used to moor airships (blimps) and dirigibles. All the Marine aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

That same day, December 7, 1941, the Japanese forces also attacked Midway Island, the westernmost island in the Hawaii archipelago. First Lieutenant George Cannon, USMC, after being injured by enemy shelling, refused to leave the command post until his wounded men were safely evacuated. He died due to a loss of blood and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The most unusual incident of December 7th was the crash landing of a damaged Japanese fighter aircraft on the island Niihau, southwest of Kauai. In this Niihau Incident, 22-year-old Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi survived the landing and was initially treated as a guest by the people of the island. Nishikaichi was able to enlist the support of a Japanese-American family on the island to obtain weapons. To make a long story short, the native Hawaiians of Niihau overcame and killed the Japanese pilot. The collaborating Japanese-American committed suicide and his wife was imprisoned for the rest of the war. Some allege this collaboration led President Roosevelt to approve the relocation of Japanese-Americans on the west coast as a threat to the national security.

Pearl Harbor, Oahu, and Hawaii became major logistics support and training centers as the war progressed. Most every ship, plane, and service member serving in the Pacific went through Hawaii. The geographic position of Hawaii in the center of the Pacific ocean that attracted the interest of the United States in the 19th century remained of crucial importance in the 20th century.

In May of 1944 the U.S. was preparing to invade Saipan and Guam in the Mariana Islands. Ships were crowded in Pearl Harbor loading fuel and ammunition. On Sunday, May 21, an explosion in the West Loch of Pearl Harbor killed 163 men, injured 396 and destroyed six LSTs (landing ship tanks) and three smaller landing craft. In subsequent salvage operations Boatswains Mate Second Class Owen Hammerberg posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his efforts to save two fellow divers tangled in the wreckage.

More than 30,000 veterans are buried in the National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater on Oahu. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful spots on the earth. Let us remember their sacrifice.

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About the Author:  Brian N. Durham is currently editor of My Hawaii News and Hawaii School Reports, publications of Island Options. A retired Coast Guard officer with 22 years of service, Brian is a member of the Hawaii Bar and has worked for the Hawaii State Legislature and the Linda Lingle Campaign Committee.

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