In every world disaster or event one can remember "where they were," "what they were doing," "what time of day it was," "what feelings and emotions had occurred," as if the world or time had stood still.Events like the terrorist attack on the U.S. on 9/11, "the year 2000, the celebration of the new millennium," the world stunned by the death of Princess Diana of Wales," "the car chase and the controversial murder trial of O.J. Simpson," "the year 1981 when Pope John Paul II and the late President Ronald Reagan were victims of an assassination attempt," "the sudden death of the King of Rock-n-Roll Elvis Presley," the day the Eagle had landed as Neil Armstrong walks on the moon," "the year 1968 when Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated," "the year 1963 the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the man accused of killing JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald" or the hour or day time stood still as a world nuclear conflict was avoided between Soviet Union and America as worldwide tension drove the U.S. and Russia to the brink of thermonuclear confrontation. Remember the air raid siren practices as children in school we had to hid under our school desk or go down the school or office building basements. "The time or hour the atom bomb was used and wiped out two Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "And the day that will live in infamy as wave after wave of Japanese war planes began to bomb America's major Pacific base, Pearl Harbor as America and people around the world were stunned, were taken entirely by surprise as within two hours the Japanese had destroyed five battleships, 14 smaller crafts, and 200 aircraft, with at least 2,400 people were killed.
It was one brave child's eyewitness view of the attack on Pearl Harbor or that day of Sunday morning Dec. 7, 1941. A view very little at that time had witnessed.
My visit to Pearl Harbor this past May at the memorial I had encountered the Pearl Harbor child, now Mrs. Dorinda Makanaonalmi Nicholson who told me of her version as she was there as a 6-year-old child witnessing the whole Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese as she also wrote a book about it called "Pearl Harbor Child" (the account remembered was also assisted by her father).
Dorinda's story is different and unique and remained untold for 50 years until she wrote her book. Her memories are unforgettable as her family lived on the Pearl City Peninsula, just across the channel from Ford Island where the U.S. Navy dock there aircraft carriers and battleships. The old battleship Utah was only a few hundred yards from her house. Standing in her front yard, she watched the Japanese torpedo planes scream past the treetop level, riddling her street on their way to attack the American ships anchored peacefully in the harbor. Dorinda said the attacking planes flew so low she could clearly see the goggles on the pilots' faces.
Seeing the surprise attack take place, Dorinda said when she turn back to look at her house she was incendiary bullets skitter across it, as parts of the roof caught fire. Not knowing what to do, her father gathered the family into their 1939 black Ford, and drove through the smoke filled streets away from the harbor into the nearby sugarcane fields, where the family hid, fearing a Japanese invasion.
Dorinda said she and her family had to carry or wear a gas mask everywhere she went and had watched the ships in the harbor burn as she remembers also digging bullets out of her kitchen and says each year on Dec. 7 her thoughts always go back to that incredible Sunday morning when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
The year was 1941 on Dec. 7, Dorinda said they lived on 443 Jean Street in the area called Pearl City Peninsula it was so close to the harbor that mom could walk to her job at the Pan American World Airways clipper base. Mom could come home on work days and have lunch with my baby brother, Ishamael, and our family dog, Hula girl. My dad worked at the Honolulu Post Office.
That Sunday morning I remember mom had the radio going. It was a large radio that stood on the floor with big round knobs that had to be turned to change stations. The music played softly in the living room as mom was slicing some papaya fruit for breakfast. We could hear the radio from our kitchen table as we sat down to eat our breakfast of Portuguese sausage, rice and eggs.
Dorinda said suddenly they heard the sound of low flying planes, then almost immediately loud explosions followed by more planes passing directly over our house. The blasts were too much for my impulsive Scotch-Irish father to ignore, so he bolted up from the kitchen table and darted into the front yard of the house as I was right behind him.
As my dad and I looked into the sky, we saw the orange-red emblem of the rising sun. The Japanese plans which were so low, barely above our roof top that we could see the pilots' faces, even the goggle that covered their eyes as the sound of their bullets were muffled by the roar of the engines. Even though we couldn't hear them, their incendiary bullets found their targets. As she continued our kitchen was now on fire and parts of the roof were gone. The front door of our next door neighbor was so bullet-ridden from the strafing that it fell from its hinges. From our end of the peninsula, we could see the old battleship Utah as it turned on its side in the murky water. Everywhere we looked there was smoke and fire. The odor of burning oil hung over the harbor as I remember my dad's expression face as he yelled, "get in the car! We've got to get away from the harbor!" as Dorinda spoke at that moment.
We tried to get into our ar, she said but military police jeeps shouted at everyone to get all civilian cars off the street immediately, to stay off the road, as we saw truckloads of servicemen go by us trying desperately to get to their posts. May of the men were still dressing, pulling on their pants or shirts or shoes trying to get somewhere.
Mom inside the house on the radio heard a program interrupted with dramatic news, "Air raid in Pearl Harbor. This is no Maneuver. We are under attack. This is the real McCoy" and for all medical and military personnel to report to the hospital and bases.
Dad still wanted us to get away Dorinda said so many parents, my baby brother and I piled into our old black Ford, not knowing where we were trying to go, but realizing that we had to find someplace to hide. Dad managed to drive around to another nearby vantage point on the harbor and what we saw it will never be forgotten she said.
One battleship was upside down and others were ablaze and helpless. We knew that countless men were dying out there. It seemed as if the water was on fire with burning oil. Overhead we saw a lone Japanese plane calmly make pass after pass through clouds of black smoke rising from the disabled ships.
Years later when photographs of the attack were recovered from Japan. Dad and I looked and the photos and wondered "had they been taken from that plan. My dad thought they were."
In the shock in seeing all what I was seeing, the awful scene gave us all waves of anxiety and panic. Dad decided to return home and drive back down the road to the Pearl City Peninsula where we were stopped by military police. With great confusion and panic the military police were in no mood to be cooperative and won't let us go by. Raising their guns they screamed at us, "Get out of here! You can't go home, it's too dangerous! Find someplace else to stay."
No knowing what else to do, dad tuned around and drove our black sedan car up Waimano Home Road to the sugarcane fields in the hills above Pearl Harbor. Dorinda said from the cane fields, they could see the harbor on fire and would watch the skies in case the Japanese planes came back being afraid we all hide ourselves in the tall sug-arcane stalks, but at my age at that time I wasn't thinking about the Japanese bombers returning. I was thinking about my dog Hula Girl. She was a black and white mixture, the kind of dog known in Hawaii as a "poi-dog." I knew she was scared with all of the noisy blasts and explosions and I wanted her to be safe and not afraid Dorinda said.
Soon our neighbors from Pearl City began to join us in the cane fields. For a little while I forgot about not being able to go home to my dog because some of my playmates had joined us. As children sometimes do we forgot about the crisis for awhile. We enjoyed playing, while out parents worried about what to do.
I remember chasing each other in and out of the sugarcane stalks laughing and talking. Our only concern was to be careful around the cane, as the leaves sometimes caused itching and you could get small cuts if you weren't careful.
Our group in the cane field continued to grow. As each car arrived, all the adults rushed up, begging for the latest information. Finally one of our neighbors joined us with some news. He said, "he was listening to the radio. Just before noon, governor Poindexter came on and declared a state of emergency. he said Hawaii was to be under martial law (meaning the military was in charge."
While in the cane field, I thought of my unfinished breakfast we left on the kitchen table earlier that morning and had gotten so hungry, and thinking of my dog Hula Girl if she had been hit with a bomb or a bullet. It was there for me, the first time that I began to cry Dorinda said.
The sun was hot and children in the cane fields became gored with the games they played and some began to cry. All the grownups looked serious and confused. They didn't know how long we were to stay in the cane fields and were thinking out loud "what's going to happen next? Have the Japanese forces landed yet? Have they attacked any of the other islands? Will the bomber come back?"
Dorinda said they knew they couldn't go back to their homes in the harbor as they could see the smoke from the burning ships could the skies and thought how long they would have to wait and hide in the cane fields and hope that the Japanese won't return. We "were now refugees" she said, with the memory. I will never forget.
Until next time, Ciao P.S. As a child of the harbor, the memory of the day the bombs fell will remain with me always Dorinda said and I remember dad telling me Hawaii was always preparing for the Japanese to return if that occurred the enemy would quickly seize the banks and the American money to buy weapons or good in other counties. To protect against that possibility mom and dad and all other Hawaii residents had to take their money and turn it into the bank. The bank replaced it with special currency that had "Hawaii" overprinted on both sides. This was the only legal tender for the island during most of the war.
Next week, Part II, Remembering the Fear.