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World War II in Hawaii - Pearl Harbor



Personal Accounts and Books

Many people who were in Honolulu on December 7, 1941 have written accounts of the attack.  Interest generally focuses on those who were in the military, aboard ships in the harbor (the USS Vestal; USS Tangier; USS Sumner; USS California), the pilots and crew of the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron, or those stationed at ground installations at Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks, or Kaneohe Naval Air Station.

While it is certainly appropriate to remember those who risked and lost their lives in defense of our country, those of us who live on the island today sometimes wonder what it was like for civilians during the attack and the four years of war that followed.  The online book stacks include the following four selections, two first hand accounts and two fictional accounts.

We Remember Pearl Harbor
Larry Rodriggs was nine years old in 1941.  He published his account of the attack and the war years in 1991 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the attack in memory of his father.  The family was headed to church on that Sunday morning when the planes flew over and the sirens started.  Larry's father was a delivery truck driver, trained to serve as an ambulance driver in a time of need.  That time came and the family did not see him for another three days, and when he returned his clothes were bloodstained, he was exhausted, and he never spoke of those days.

"I am embarrassed to admit that even though I was a witness to one of the most significant events in 20th century American history, I failed to understand its importance until I matured into my fifties."

That's OK, Larry.  As children we do not understand, but we do see and record our impressions.  Yours bring the realities home:

"Among the children who lost their lives that day included the Ornellas sisters, Gertrude and Barbara, ages 16 and eight, who were washing the family car in their front yard when they were struck down in a terrible explosion. Lillian Oda was only six; Eunice Wilson and Janet Ohta were infants -- seven months and three months old, respectively. I often wonder what they might be doing today if their lives weren't prematurely snuffed out by the horrors of war."

And so does this one:

"If only I could live the last 30 years over again, I would devote much of my time to spreading the word about what happened that day -- to civilians, as well as to military personnel. I would mention the constant fear we felt as civilians living in Hawaii, waiting for the invasion and occupation of our islands by the enemy."

Pearl Harbor Child:
A Child's View of Pearl Harbor-From Attack to Peace
The author, Dorinda Nicholson, was six years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.  This is her story about the attack and life on Oahu during the following four years of war.  It is written for children, yet of interest to any who want to gain this perspective.

Historical Fiction

Pearl Harbor Is Burning!:
A Story of World War II (Once upon America) 1993; Fiction; Ages 9-12
This short story of two fifth graders, one a haole malihini (newcomer) and the other a Japanese American, who meet and become friends just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Good reviews; more attention on overcoming prejudice than an actual account of the attack.

Under the Blood-Red Sun 1995 Young Adult Fiction
Describes the overnight transition from carefree childhood times to the suspicion and fear that Japanese Americans in Hawaii faced after Pearl Harbor was attacked and the U.S. was at war with Japan.  Excellent reviews of the book available.

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