Hopefully, a good percentage of my readers will remember Dec. 7, 1941, as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
When one does remember this day, I would imagine you picture in your mind numerous Japanese planes with the prominent red ball on the wings diving and strafing the United States naval fleet based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Perhaps many of you have visited the monument to the U.S.S. Arizona, a ship still rusting away and bodies still below, where it was sunk 76 years ago.
While stationed and living and attending school on Oahu, I had occasion to visit Pearl Harbor on several occasions. Whenever our ship would head out to the north Pacific for a three-month patrol on Ocean Station Victor, we would cruise slowly from our base at Sand Island in Honolulu Harbor to Pearl Harbor to take on some equipment and to fuel up for the first part of our voyage.
I was always in awe whenever the Coast Guard Cutter Bering Strait, my ship, would sail over to Pearl.
World War II was an event that had always awed me, so I was always well aware of where I was while at Pearl. Once, we moored for over a week at Pearl to have our World War II-era ship refitted with some new equipment or gear. The ship itself was a left-over Navy, 311 foot, sea plane tender the Coast Guard had converted to an ocean weather station vessel, equipped to do that job.
It was a well-know fact in those days I served in the Coast Guard that most all of our equipment, including most of our ships, were handed-down Navy equipment. The average-age Coast Guard ship in the ’60s was already 20 years old. Sometimes, some of us would question the safety or seaworthiness of some of the ships.
I remember standing on the main deck of the Cutter Matagorda, another 311 footer, watching a seaman drop his large screw driver right through the metal, main deck onto the deck below. Scary!
After I married my first wife, a girl of Japanese heritage, we lived in Wahiawa, her hometown, some 25 miles north of Honolulu. From most positions in Wahiawa, Kolekole Pass was visible. It was through this pass in the green-covered mountains where the Japanese planes flew, out of sight of most onlookers, as they flew at low altitudes after passing through the pass, hidden from view.
It was early on a peaceful Sunday morning. As the enemy planes flew over Wahiawa, Waianae, Aiea and Pearl City, they strafed the yards of several of the local Oahuan families. My wife shared that one of her uncles had been killed in the strafings.
Japanese families living in Hawaii at the time of the attack were put into precarious positions, and many innocent people were herded off to one of 10 Japanese-American internment camps in the wilderness of some of the Western states, far away from the rest of the American population.
My Japanese family was not affected by this. My father-in-law was able to keep his job, although he could not enter the military. His brother, Iwao, enlisted and served in the famed 442nd Army infantry that performed so many heroic acts while serving in Europe.
Sen. Daniel Inouye was then an officer in the 442nd and was wounded. He came home a hero without one of his arms.
Even though so many local Japanese entered the U.S. military, their families were still looked upon as potential spies for the Japanese government and sent to those relocation camps, like the most famous at Manzanar in California.
It must have been very difficult for both my wife’s parents, as her mother’s family was from Hiroshima, and her father’s from Nagasaki. On one of my trips to Japan I did visit with my distant family of in-laws in Hiroshima. We treated each other with kindness and respect; it is a time I’ll never forget. Some of the family members who had gathered for the occasion knew a little English, while I knew very little Japanese. I had taken a conversational Japanese introduction class. We spoke of family to a small degree, viewed some of each other’s photos, and I was treated to some sake, a drink made from fermented rice.
The war had been over for about 15 years when I first traveled to Hawaii. I loved my Japanese-American friends and family.
I lived in Hawaii when it was literally a melting pot of all different nationalities and color. When I attended the University of Hawaii for a short time, I was in my glory. The last house I lived in was surrounded by families of Hawaii, Japanese, Filipino and Chinese descent. We all got along so well and seemed to love one another.
Some of you who are interested in the Japanese involvement in the war may have had occasion to watch some movies of the war made by Japanese filmmakers or a collaboration of American and Japanese filmmakers. I have found them to be outstanding. Among them Sanga-Ari, Tora, Tora, Tora and an outstanding movie by Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima.
I hope you have time to reflect on that day, so long ago, when our nation was attacked, and America entered into the worst war of all time.
God bless you.
The writer lives in Aiken, S.C.