The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese during that Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, will always be remembered. The brave men and women who were in the military, who lost their family, their friends, their comrades, their limbs, their ships, the events will always be in their mind, as they are scarred for life. But those who witnessed the deaths, the crisis, the disaster, thanked God they had lived through it all, survived, so they can tell their story of what human tragic and fear one can experience and hope it could never happen again. it was through the eyes of 6-year-old Dorinda Makanaonalni Nickolson on that tragic day in 1941 where her family, her neighbors, some residents were all in fear, confused, with no information as they all were in hiding in the hills of the sugar cane fields as they all saw the night sky flashing over Pearl Harbor, with sounds of gunfire and explosions coming from all directions.The interview with Dorinda she said from her view and her family vantage point in the sugar can field, they kept a watchful eye on the harbor, as it burned all day and night, sometimes seeing flames shooting 50 or 70-feet into the sky as ships and ammunition exploded followed by plumes of dark smoke that came from the burning ships in the harbor.
We convinced ourselves to staying in the fields as we knew we couldn't go home until the harbor was clear and safe, she said. It was the longest night of our lives, we all were sitting in total darkness not knowing whether our homes had been destroyed or if friends and family were alright. "The night was spent in fear," Dorinda said. We really though this was the end for us. There was nothing we could do but huddle together in the dark, draw family and friends together wait for morning to come.
The next morning, military police found us and told us to evacuate that they would send us to the recreation hall of a sugar mill at Waipahu about 10 miles away. The recreation hall was a small wooden structure that sat on a hill next to the sugar mill Dorinda said. There was a small soup kitchen and one bathroom. Approximately 100 civilians men women and children had been brought there. We all slept on the floor.
Telephones were not to be used, as they were only for vital military use. parents were holding their children close to them and people were very gentle and soft spoken with one another she said. The remainder of the night was still spent in fear, wondering what the latest exchange of gunfire meant. We had no information. The phones were still restricted to official miliary use so we couldn't' call anyone to let them know we were safely out of the harbor Dorinda said.
The next morning, the smoke from the harbor was clearly visible as my parents strained to see what they could in the early light. We still heard occasional sounds of exploding shells caused when ammunition stored on the battered ships ignited.
The radio had been left on all night for any tiny bit of information. The only real news was instructions for all vital personnel to report to work. Everyone else was to stay off the streets. Those with medical, military and government jobs were considered vital Dorinda said.
My dad was a government postal worker at the Honolulu Post Office near the Iolani Palace. So he reported to work as did several other fathers from the evacuation center she said. Families had little choice when spouses went to work. They simply waited and hoped for a safe return.
After four or five days of sleeping on the floor at the sugar mill, we were allowed to return home, at last. I remember I couldn't wait to see if our house was still here and my dog, Hula Girl, was still alive!
I'll tell you Joe, she said, I have to share my dog story with you, as I have told others when I do speaking engagements. When we returned home I was out of the car calling for Hula Girl before dad even turned off the motor. My parents scurried around to see how much damage had been done but I went looking everywhere for my dog. Our yard was full of shrapnel and when I couldn't find her, I just knew she had been injured by one of the jagged pieces of metal and had crawled somewhere to die.
I searched and called for here for the rest of the day Dorinda said. Dad tried to tell me that she was probably very frightened and was hiding somewhere. He assured me that she would come back very soon. With tears running down my face, I kept looking up and down the streets. I called for her, I even climbed up in a huge mango tree to see if I could see further and yell louder she said. I finally had come in when it was too dark to keep looking any longer.
Nothing else mattered to me at that time Dorinda said. My dog had been my constant companion ever since I could remember. mom had me take hula classes when I barely started to toddle and Hula Girl would come along with us. When mom began teaching hula in our living room, i'd watch the classes with Hula Girl right at my side. I had given her that name because when she saw me, her happy tail would wag so fast that it made her hips wiggle in her own version of a fast hula dance.
That night as I layed in my bed I thought I hear her whimpering under my bed. I quickly dropped to the floor and looked under the bed, but it was only my wishful thinking, she said smiling. But then I heard the whimper again. It sounded like it came from outside under our house. I called my dad and grabbing a flashlight we darted out the front screen door, down the few steps and looked under the house.
Somehow when I looked before I had missed seeing my dog in that small, dark space, she said. you know home in Hawaii don't have basements and ours was a typical house which sat on short 18-inch stilts leaving just enough room for a crawl space. To me it was a miracle, Dorinda said. My dog, Hula Girl, was there still alive but weak, but strong enough to wag her short tail a couple of times. I had a real tearful reunion with my dog and I have never forgot that, she said.
At the time all school were closed immediately and the one I went to was converted into a military hospital. Schools remained closed until February of 1942 I think and some of the rumors said that our water supply might even become poisoned.
Many of our play days were spent taking a basket and picking up pieces for shrapnel and seeing who could collect the most. I collected small bullet casings that made a high-pitched whistle sound when you blew on the open end. We also found many bomb casings and used one for a doorstop for the front door al through the was and afterward, Dorinda said.
Dad kept finding bullets in the walls of our house, especially in the kitchen, these were incendiary bullets that were supposed to burn when hitting a target. Parts of our kitchen did catch on fire and the blackened streaks were how we could tell the path of the bullets and where they had stopped, she said. I still have a bullet that dad cut out of the wall above the phone with his pocket knife.
I also remembered many months after the attach my family and I would walk down to the tip of the peninsula and to get a closer look at the battleship Utah capsized in the harbor and the USS Arizona. The Utah has 58 men entombed in her hull and the Arizona lost 1,177 men, most of them still aboard their ship, Dorinda said sadly.
I also remembered when every person in the Hawaii islands was issued a gas mask. They were to be carried everywhere at all times because they were worried about the use of poison gas by Japan. I remember mine felt heavy across my left shoulder in its brown canvas bag and my brother was only two, his mask was almost as long as he was. Even babies had to have them, Dorinda remembered.
We even had blackouts and curfew for a few months as we could have no lights on after dark. We had to rush to get everything done before dark! That was an adventure until it also meant there was nothing to do but go to bed when it got dark. That's when I decided it wasn't fun any more, she said laughing.
Across America, there were many shortages during th war but in Hawaii we had shortages of everything. We had to ration everything! Gas, stamps, oil, even eggs and meat that you could not find in stores. That was when I first learned to like peanut butter and beans, both foods that dad introduced to our family.
Many times there was not toilet paper at the stores. Just as the metal can of maple syrup shaped like a log cabin disappeared from the shelves. Toilet paper was another of many things the stores couldn't keep in stock. Mom would save paper, usually newspaper and rub it back and forth against itself to soften it, and that became our toilet paper. We all had to get used to doing with less of what was considered non-essential, but, like most kids then I missed candy and stuff with sugar and you know what, Joe, what I missed the most? It was bubble gum. Dorinda laughed.
After the was my family and neighbors though we could always live in Pearl Harbor, but it was not to be. All civilian property was condemned on the peninsula. We had to sign our deed over to the Navy. My family was among the last civilians to leave as we had held out for more than seven years after the war ended.
Still feeling the emotional ties to the harbor, my parents could never completely leave it. So we built our new home up in the hills of Halawa Heights where we could see the harbor from every room and we could barely see the American flag that still flied proudly over the sunken battleship USS Arizona. Even today I can't explain the feeling that my soul is a part of the harbor and peninsula and I still get emotional with good and bad memories each time I return to the harbor as it will always be an unforgettable memorable event, Dorinda finished.
Until Next Time, Ciao Joe D'Angelo P.S. Dorinda Nicholson is a member of the National Speakers Association. "You held us spellbound." She shares her eyewitness account with audiences around the world, at grade schools, high school, universities, conferences, and special events.
Her mother, a hula instructor, taught Dorinda hula at the age of three. She graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu, then attended the University of Hawaii where she was spotted by a local t.v. producer who invited her to be the hula dancer on a weekly show, Campus Canteen.
When she was 18, she was the KGMB-TV "Flight to Fame" contest with hula performance bringing her to the mainland for the first time. Deciding to stay for awhile, she became a flight attendant for Braniff International Airways before marrying Larry Nicholson, a professional photographer and multimedia producer.
After the birth of their four sons, she earned undergraduate graduate, and post graduate degrees at the University of Missouri at Kansas City in counseling psychology and currently works as a licensed marriage and family therapist. She has published numerous travel articles and authored a series of award-winning educational filmstrips on the history and culture of Hawaii.