December 7th was always a day of remembrance in our family.
Each year I review and add to this story of my family’s memories of December 7th, 1941, as those memories were told to me. This story, my memory of other’s memories, is my way of keeping Pearl Harbor Day alive for me, and maybe for some of you as well.
My mother and father were both, always proud to say that they survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the aftermath of the submarine war patrols in the South Pacific and the rest of the World War II.
I was raised beneath the shadow of that war. I grew up in Honolulu, where we lived in Navy Housing (NHA-1). Pearl Harbor was literally my back yard.
We lost Pop in 2005, and Mom passed away in August of 2013 (http://MyParadiseCompleted.com). December 7th, 1941 was a defining moment in their young lives, and a significant influence in mine, even though it took place almost 8 years before I was born.
My Mom and Pop were members of the “Greatest Generation,” and I was fortunate to be raised in the constant company of many who understood that the price of freedom is commitment and personal sacrifice.
Part of their enduring legacy and gift to me/us is the preservation of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Today, it seems, that many aspects of these freedoms are taken for granted by many, not understood by many, not valued by many. If we do not remain forever vigilant, and diligent…many of our freedoms will be lost by many.
The passing time, for me, brings a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices of those who came before us. They conveyed their virtues and values by words…and more importantly, by their acts and deeds.
When I think of December 7, 1941, one word comes to mind,
Imagine, if you can, the sheer terror of those who lived it, and through it, and how they must have felt, as they witnessed the waves of Japanese planes attacking our Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and our Air Forces at nearby Hickam Field at 7:00 AM that Sunday morning. Hickam and the Naval Base Pearl are now a Joint US Facility.
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and then…SURPRISE. As I learned from Mom and Pop, and later from my studies of Naval History at the Naval Academy, surprise was the first successful objective of the Japanese Fleet that morning. The US was fortunate, or it was “Divine Providence” that our carriers were at sea that morning. They were spared the destruction. Aircraft carriers were not battle tested and the Battleship was thought to be the ultimate weapon by many. Of course a main target for the Japanese that morning was “Battleship Row.” Aircraft Carriers then became instrumental to our success in the Pacific, and the entire war effort. They are today, still a, if not the, primary component of our worldwide naval strategy. They were a relatively new weapons platform with new and untested strategies and tactics in 1941.
For those who experienced the attack, it was hard to imagine what was going on at first. Pop thought it was a drill…there was an initial lack of comprehension, followed by confusion, disbelief, and then, it was all about Duty. The task at hand: run into the fire, and not away from it. That is exactly what our servicemen and women did that morning.
Imagine the terror, not knowing if the attack would continue to the general population around our key military installations on the Island, and not just the military resources, personnel and assets.
Imagine the terror, not knowing if the attack was a prelude to a full scale Japanese invasion of the Hawaiian Islands. The Japanese Army had a very bad reputation and the stories of how they treated prisoners of war in China were horrific. Describing it as rape, pillage and plunder would have been a dramatic understatement. Add torture, dismemberment, and desecration of the human body, and you have a better idea.
And the thought of a follow up invasion to the initial attack was real concern. The US currency was marked so that in the event the Japanese did invade Hawaii, and captured U.S. Currency, the currency with the Hawaii market could be deemed non-negotiable by the US Government, and thus not contribute to the Japanese war effort.
Note that HAWAII is stamped on the left and right sides of the dollar bill.
Note H A W A I I across the entire back of the dollar bill.
These were known as Hawaii War Dollars
Imagine the terror, and apprehension, of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines as Duty called them to abandon family and loved ones.
There was no time for preparation or long, or even short good-byes. Service members had to do whatever it took to get back to their duty station immediately, be it their ship, or one of our numerous military installations on the Island…Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Bellows Field, Fort Shafter.
Duty called. It had to be an agonizing decision, not knowing what would happen to those they loved. Leaving their family and friends behind to fend for themselves.
Imagine the terror, as friends and relatives on the Mainland US who had loved ones stationed in the Islands, heard the news of the attack. It was unthinkable. Their first thought was probably about the survival of their loved one, and on its heels to the country as a whole.
Imagine the continuing terror of not knowing who survived the attack and who didn’t.
I am the custodian of a treasured family memento, a copy of the telegram my grandparents in Detroit sent to my Dad and Mom on December 8, 1941. It is faded and frayed, but still readable…”Are you OK.” In 1941, there was little long distance telephone capability, no e-mail, no text messaging or Facebook…no instant communication to ease the anxiety of families and friends who had loved ones in the Hawaiian Islands that day.
It says: “Are you both safe? Wire us collect.” It was sent on December 8, 1941
While it is difficult, if not impossible to imagine the terror, I feel I know as well as anyone who was not there, the terror and apprehension of that day. I was raised in the company of fairly young adults who experienced the attack first hand. Both my Mom and Dad, and my mother’s mom and dad…my aunts and uncles, and their friends and families were there, and the attack on Pearl Harbor was not only a seminal event in their lives, but in mine as well. I heard their stories many times as a young boy, living in a post WWII Honolulu, right outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor.
For my father’s firsthand account of December 7, 1941, as he told the story to Jerry Bruckheimer (Producer of the movie Pearl Harbor) go to http://MarcusAndLaniKlein.com and click on “Pearl Story” under the Home – Marcus and Lani Klein link.
Mom and Pop’s story is an amazing one, like so many stories from that infamous day. They met in Hilo, Hawaii in January of 1941. My Dad was a sailor, a Jewish kid, 23 years old, from Detroit. My Mom was a 17 year old local girl (Hawaiian, Portuguese, English, and a little Chinese for good measure some say). They were married on June 28th, 1941 in Honolulu, by a Justice of the Peace. On Sunday Morning, December 7, 1941, they lived in Navy Housing Area 3 (NHA 3) on Ninth Street, a few blocks outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor. My Mother’s parents lived in a little shack on “P Road” in an area known as Damon Tract, which is now close to where the Honolulu International Airport is located.
Mom and Dad’s survival story of December 7 and the rest of the War is an amazing series of events. They were married for over 64 years, bound together by many things, including their experience from 1941 to 1945, their separations, and all that they endured together, and apart.
On December 7, 1941, young Sailors (E-4 and below) were not allowed overnight Liberty, unless they were married (Bluejacket’s Manual defines LIBERTY as permission to be absent from a ship or station for a period up to 48 hours). For this reason, Pop was not aboard ship on that Sunday morning but at home with Mom. Had he been single, he would have been aboard his ship, the USS Medusa, a repair ship (Dad always described it as a Battleship Tender) and he would have been killed as his battle station was the crow’s nest, which was completely destroyed in the attack by friendly fire (again, according to Pop). The joke in our family over the years was how by being married, my Mom saved my Dad’s life
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an awakening for the American People. As a nation, we did not want to be involved in the storm that was becoming a World War. But when our Fleet was destroyed, as President Roosevelt said, a sleeping giant was awakened and the United States of America recovered to defeat not one, but two formidable enemies, especially the Japanese.
The Japanese were committed to victory, honor, and to the emperor. As a young boy (I am 65 as I write this), I remember how eerie and unbelievable it was when I learned of pilots who were willing to sacrifice their lives and fly their planes into our ships, killing our sailors and themselves in the process. They were the suicide bombers, the Kamikazes. The Kamikaze pilots would leave their bases with their fuel tanks half full (probably half empty in this case). They had enough fuel to reach their target, and no fuel to return.
As unbelievable as that idea seemed to me as a boy, the concept seems mild today when we look at the present day suicide bombers. And the Japanese avoided killing innocents, which is the objective of today’s suicide bombers. How the world has changed.
Growing up in Post War Pearl Harbor and Honolulu
My Dad remained in the Navy and in the Islands after the War. I was born in 1949 at Aeia Naval Hospital. In 1952 Pop was transferred to the USS Nereus in San Diego, where we lived until 1956.
In 1956, my Dad was a Chief Warrant Officer (W-2) and he was transferred to the Commander of the Submarine Force Pacific (SubPac) staff as Special Services Officer. My sisters and I spent a lot of time on the “Sub Base Pearl”, as living in Hawaii in those days was still sort of like living on a military outpost. Hawaii had not yet obtained statehood and was a US Territory (you had to get “shots” when you traveled there from the “Mainland”). When we moved back to the Islands, we lived in Navy Housing, Area 1, which at the time served as Junior Officer’s Quarters. The Duplex and Fourplex structures were made of cinder blocks. NHA 2 and NHA 3 were Enlisted Quarters and were of frame construction, shared with the termites. NHA 1, 2, and 3 were right outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor.
As the Special Services Officer for the Submarine Force, Pop was in charge of the Officers and Enlisted Clubs, swimming pools, hobby shops, movies, athletic facilities, recreational cabins at Barbers Point, and other recreational facilities. It cost a dime for a haircut, and a dime to attend the movie on the Sub Base. It is at the old sub base movie theater there that I saw the premier of Run Silent, Run Deep starring Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable. I still have the pens they gave away as mementos of the movie.
In the 1950s our living room furniture in our Navy Housing Quarters consisted of a rattan couch, two rattan chairs, two rattan end tables, a small round rattan coffee table with lahala mats covering the hardwood floors. After school and during the summer, I would go out to play and stay out for hours, attired in shorts, no shirt and barefoot or at the most, “go-aheads“. Back then, you could buy a small bag of dried squid for a nickel…ling hi mui was also a favorite. Li Chi, mangos, papayas, guavas, star fruit, liliquoi (passion fruit) and coconuts were pretty easy to find growing in different places around the Island.
In 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades (1956-1958) we lived on Third Street and then Center Drive in NHA 1 and I attended Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary School. Our classrooms were war surplus Quonset huts and we had concrete bomb shelters in our back yards throughout Navy Housing…constant reminders of Sunday, December 7, 1941. To put this in a time context…in the 1950s, WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor were still recent history and in the memory of most adults. My parents were young adults during the War, and it was a defining event, if not THE defining event of their lives and generation. It was spoken of often over my life in a number of different social circles.
In the summer of 1959 we moved from Center Drive in Navy Housing to Foster Village on Salt Lake Blvd, where my parents purchased a home for $20,000. Single wall construction, built on a slab, no garage, no heating system, and on a 99 year ground lease.
Moving required that I change elementary schools. I attended Aliamanu Elementary School in 5th and 6th grades in 1959/60. Aliamanu was right across the street from Salt Lake Crater, which was, back then, a large lake (at least it seemed large to me back then). Today it is the Honolulu Country Club and Golf Course.
As a student at Aliamanu, I was the Captain of the JPOs (Junior Police Officers) and my JPO Advisor, who later in his life was a State Senator, was Jumbo Joe Kuroda. At the end of our street in Foster Village was a sugar cane field…acres and acres of sugar cane. The end of the street was not a “cul de sac” but a dead end with a barricade and a ditch. The ditch was easily jumped and was on the edge of the cane fields…where I was forbidden to go but went anyway, exploring and spending hours of my youth.
A Family Tradition
Happy Pearl Harbor Day – Every year since I left home when I was 19 years old in 1968 to attend the United States Naval Academy, I called my Dad on December 7th to wish him “Happy Pearl Harbor Day,” no matter where I happened to be in the world. One year I was deployed in the Western Pacific and in the Philippines at the proverbial “tip of the sword.” We talked about Pearl Harbor and where he and Mom were that day, and what they were doing. I loved to hear my Dad retell the story, year after year. I know it made him feel good to tell it.
My Dad’s dream for me was that I attend the Naval Academy and become a commissioned officer in the US Navy, and it was all I ever knew or thought I wanted to be. I was fortunate, and on June 28, 1968, I entered the Naval Academy with the Class of 1972. Last month I found some old 8mm home movies (not Super 8) of the Class of 1972 Parents Weekend, which I had digitized. If you are interested, the clip features some of the beautiful sites of the “Yard,” the Midshipman’s term for the Academy…and lots of marching (http://youtu.be/A9Gp85PhBnE ). Also included in this clip is a scene with Mom, Dad, and VADM and Martha Grenfell.
After my Dad, VADM Grenfell was one of my first heroes. Not because of his great accomplishments as a submarine skipper in the Pacific during WWII, which were many, but because he was an Admiral. This was something I aspired to be, not knowing what an Admiral actually did, but knowing that the route to get there, at least back then, usually began at the Naval Academy…and a few feet of film with Mom, Dad, and me at 19 years of age. There are also a number of cameo appearances of my classmates and roommates (one who went on to become a Four Star Admiral…who knew?).
When I turned 13, I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Commodore Levy Chapel at the Norfolk Naval Station. Pop was on the Staff of ComSubLant at the time, as the Athletic Director and Morale Officer. Vice Admiral and Mrs. Grenfell attended my Bar Mitzvah and their gift to me was a gold pendant of the Ten Commandments. The Admiral presented it to me with his calling card. He told me the message on the calling card was more important than the gift, and not to lose the card….which I have to this day.
My Mom was almost 89 when I visited her on December 7, 2012, her last Pearl Harbor Day, at the nursing home. We “talked story” about December 7, 1941 and about Pop, and about how I would call him and wish him a “Happy Pearl Harbor Day” every year. As usual, she brought up “the day I was born story.” This was the end of an almost lifelong ritual for me…except to continue to write about it.
“Happy Pearl Harbor Day, you might ask?
According to Pop, you bet.
Happy to have survived. And happy to live in the United States of America.
What does Pearl Harbor mean to you?
Over the years, different members of our many online communities have shared their memories and Pearl Harbor stories, and we would love to hear yours, if you are so inclined. If not, I understand, but please wish everyone you see today a “Happy Pearl Harbor Day.”
Once again, for a survivor’s perspective of what happened on December 7, 1941 (Dictated by my Dad to my wife Janie in 1991 on the 50th Anniversary of the Attack )…go to:
http://MarcusAndLaniKlein.com and click on “Pearl Story” under the Home – Marcus and Lani Klein link.
Happy Pearl Harbor Day to everyone.
I had the opportunity to interview and ask Pop questions and record his responses about December 7th, 1941, and about the WAR. Here is what he said about the attack on Pearl Harbor:
Pop: I was in pearl harbor when the war started. 10 days of my life was lost there’s no records. I came to the base and I jumped in and stole a whale boat and went out toward the Arizona and picked guys out of the water. I threw a line out over the Stern and said hang on and I’ll pull you and we got straight and I went over the side. I had my uniform on…a pair of white pants and skivvies T-shirt. that was it.
Saul: no shoes?
Pop: yes shoes, no money. I got over to the beach where the Pennsylvania was in dry dock in the casin and the downs were in the same drydock. there’s pictures of that and I did a lot of things. I put a water hose on the bough of the Pennsylvania. They didn’t have the fire stuff they have today and we wanted to keep it from burning. So I got to thinking you know this is foolish. I’m out here busting my buns and nobody’s here to supervise. after all remember you’re a sailor and you got to have leadership and I didn’t have any. should’ve taken the bull by the horns and been my own leader now that I look back. so went on the USS Honolulu. she was getting ready to get underway and I thought well at least I’ll get on a fighting ship. she got hit with a 500 pound bomb. went through the dock and split the seams open. didn’t get hurt so the quarter deck, the master of the day says “where you from”?
Pop: It was the Medusa and I was a metalsmith. he said we can use you. the harbormaster passed the word when I ran in the gate. you can’t get back to your own ship. there’s no boats running. go wherever you can be of help. this is a good place to go so I went where I was gonna get three meals a day and the sailors chipped in their clothes. I had clothes they called DC-discarded clothing the guys that went to jail they put them in the brig I had those things. The guys chipped in some money so I could buy a toothbrush things like that. your mother didn’t know. she was living outside of housing and she didn’t know if I was living or dead. finally one of the yard workers got a message to her but all this time I’m broke you know for 10 days. so when I left there I got a letter from the commanding officer of the Honolulu that I reported aboard the time that I worked and an accommodation for what i had done. Then they took me on a boat back to the medusa that was on the other side of the island. I went on board and the master at arms met me at the gangway. they called for the master at arms. I was the only guy on the ship of about 600 men that didn’t make it back, alive! you know they thought I was dead! so the kids, all my shipmates, my shop was right off the wall where the quarterdeck was, They all came running. Hey Klein, look at your battle station! it was the after crows nest that was blown to hell! so if I’d been aboard I’d have been killed by the destroyers alongside of us that was firing over the Medusa into the kamikazes. the Curtis was a seaplane tender next birth from us.
Saul: when on the Honolulu what did you do?
Pop: worked in the metalsmith shop. they sent me down with the crew members that were metal smiths and we went and we had to put all the insulation off the bulkhead so we could find these cracks. It was a lousy job because it was spun glass and it itched. they put a radio, a wire you know you get these connections that cables go through from one compartment and waterproof really and they’ve got a little antenna there and we had the radio on and water was up to here where we were working.
Saul: up to your waist?
Pop: yes we had to get it pumped out but we had to shore it before we pumped it out. a lot of people don’t understand what you’re talking about you know this navy. anyhow
Saul: what did you use to pump it? out D250s? Handy Billings?
pop: no we didn’t have anything in there at that time. we were plugging it up so it wouldn’t come in but when we got ready to pump it would pump. they probably were handy billings at that time but anyhow that’s what we worked on. getting that thing done and it was a miserable job because of the spun glass. so we had the radio in there and we hear columburn, was the announcer like the big announcers like the guy that announces, and he says it’s been rumored that Pearl Harbor has been bombed with heavy loss if life. And that’s it. Here we are with water up to there and we know Pearl Harbor was bombed and it was lots of people killed. I saw them killed. But the United States didn’t know. then when I finally (this jumps ahead from what happened) when I finally went back to Detroit to submarine school and at the time I was on a train and had the flu. I was pretty sick. The Red Cross came aboard at different stops to check on me. I had 10 days leave before I went to sub school. so I went to marine city Michigan where my folks were. before I got on the train we were at the train by the office of ONI which is Naval intelligence and warned that we were not to divulge anything that happened in Pearl Harbor.