My ex-in-laws were at Pearl Harbor on that “Day of Infamy.”
My ex-mother-in law wrote about her experience so her daughter who was 9 months old at the time would know what it was like.
When she finally got to leave Hawaii for the mainland they spent a month aboard a ship from Hawaii to the east coast.
Here is what she wrote:
December 7, 1941
Indelibly Etched in My Mind
by Margaret Huey
Each year around December seventh, countless individuals recall, with unerring detail, exactly what they were doing when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred. For those of us who were there, the events of that and succeeding days are indelibly etched in our minds.
I was twenty years old, the wife of a Marine Corps Lieutenant, and mother of a five month old baby girl, Kay. Today, I am seventy, wife of the same Lieutenant, now a retired Colonel, mother of seven children and grandmother to sixteen. The fifty year old memory is as vivid in my mind as if it happened last Sunday.
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, my husband had taken our 1940 Ford and driven the fifteen miles from our home in Honolulu to the base at Pearl Harbor. He was to assume his post as Duty Officer of the Day, beginning at eight o’clock.
I left Kay with my neighbor, Amy Jean, wife one of my husband’s classmates, to attend mass. She was alone with her 15 month old son, Tommy, as her husband was on Midway Island. I walked the nine blocks to Waikiki Avenue to church for the seven thirty mass. At approximately seven fifty-five the mass was interrupted by noise which was reminiscent of the finale of a Forth of July fireworks display. The priest intuitively knew something was wrong. He gave us a quick blessing and told us we could leave but to proceed in the manner of a fire drill. Everyone was stunned but there was no panic. With God’s blessing, I wanted to return home as quickly as possible, but had no car.
I had put all my change in the collection plate and entered a phone booth in hopes someone had forgotten to pick up a nickel from the coin return slot. I found it empty. I dumped the contents of my purse on the floor. Luckily I found a nickel to make a call to Amy Jean. She tried to assure me everything was okay, saying the disturbance was nothing more than maneuvers off Sand Island. I looked at the sky and saw it peppered with flack and large gray puffs of smoke from anti-aircraft guns. I begged her to bring the babies and pick me up.
She arrived with the babies and a neighbor, a sailor who had come home for shore leave Saturday, December 6th. His ship was the U.S.S Arizona. She felt if there was trouble, we could take him to his ship.
The Hawaiian National Guardsmen were on the streets and the traffic was getting horrendous. We drove as far as Hickam Field, near the prison, when a guardman told us we could go no further. I argued saying my husband was Lt. Huey and Duty Officer of the Day at the Marine Corps Base. “Lady,” he shouted, “I don’t care if he is Admiral Dewey, you cannot proceed. This is war! I am sure he will be busy all day.” He told us to drive the car into the old sugar cane field to our right and take cover. He instructed our neighbor, the sailor, to go with him, joining other sailors in a truck to Pearl Harbor.
We sat in the car with our babies and wondered what would happen next. We were not afraid, only angry we could not proceed to Pearl Harbor, or go home. We had the car radio on and all stations were broadcasting, “This is not a drill, this is war! Stay in your homes.” Requests were being made for motorcycles, delivery trucks and ambulances. Doctors and nurses were told to report to their hospitals.
Within a few minutes, army trucks, filled with soldiers, were proceeding from Hickam Field to Pearl Harbor. They seemed like a happy lot, yelling and waving. It was like watching a parade. They too knew little of what they would see at Pearl Harbor.
Not far from us, about two city blocks, a plane descended and strafed some cars. We could see the red ball markings and knew it was not our plane. In truth, we did not know whose plane it was. We saw more coming and, for the first time, we were scared. Funny how one automatically ducks when something flies overhead. We soon raised our heads to see what was happening. We saw very little except for the large black puffs of smoke. The sound of bombs was deafening.
It was one o’clock before we were able to leave. The exodus from the sugar cane field was like traffic pouring out of a parking lot after a world series game. The return to Honolulu was very slow. We had to take many detours through the city as the streets were closed. King Street and Waikiki Avenue were closed. We lived just off of Waikiki Avenue. The traffic was so heavy that I did not really see any damage. The policemen, almost like a broken record, said, “keep moving”.
It was after three in the afternoon when we finally arrived home. The babies were starving and crying. We were physically and mentally exhausted, but filled with that natural supply of adrenaline which accompanies fear. When I went home, I found a bullet had, at sometime, entered the corner of the living room and lodged into the bedroom wall. This so unnerved me that I took Kay and went to Amy Jean’s to spend the night.
I could not get a call through to Pearl Harbor to find out about my husband. Amy Jean’s husband was on Midway. She was sure they had been hit too. We tried to call our families in the states but were told to keep the lines clear and stay off the phones.
Instructions from Civil Defense were repeated continually on the radio. We were to maintain total blackout and stay off the streets. If a light was needed, we were to cover a flashlight with blue paper or cloth.
We could think of nothing but the fate of our husbands. We tried to occupy our minds. We thought we should make some identification markers for the babies in case we should be separated if another attack should occur. I took a large strip of adhesive tape and printed Kay’s name, age blood type, address in the states and the fact that she was breast fed. I put it down the middle of her back, thinking she might possibly lose a leg or arm. I shivered at the thought and knew our attempts to put the fate of our husbands out of our minds was only being replaced with equally morbid thoughts.
We finally got the babies to sleep. We could not sleep. We crawled out of the bathroom window on to the carport roof to watch the red glowing skies and listen to the off and off explosions from the ships being hit in the harbor. In the distance it looked as though a forest was on fire. I remember thinking we were like cats on a roof, not afraid, but filled with curiosity.
While climbing out the window, the screen hit the back of my head and cut badly enough that I felt the hair sticking to my neck. We went back into the house to check the babies. I went into a closet and used a flashlight to see how badly I was cut. I was sure I needed a stitch or two, but we were not allowed on the streets. I applied a cold wet washcloth and returned to the roof to watch the glow from the fires most of the night. When we finally went to bed, we were still unable to sleep. The heavy trucks from Fort Ruger, three blocks away, thundered down our street throughout the night.
We were glad to see daylight and fully expected our husbands to come home. My husband finally returned on Tuesday, December ninth, at two thirty in the afternoon, in a jeep. He was wearing a steel helmet and a pistol was on his hip. For the first time I saw the career Marine I married. He brought home rolls of black tar paper to black out our windows. While working on a ladder covering the windows, I noticed he had a bad cut on his leg. He explained it happened while unloading ammunition boxes. One had fallen on his leg. I showed him the cut on my head. We both realized how lucky we were to have only superficial wounds.
We learned later in the day Amy Jean’s husband, and our sailor friend were safe. I did not realize how fortunate we all were until a few days later when I took a bus to King Street and saw hundreds of wooden coffins piled six feet high in front of mortuaries.
The following weeks were hectic. My husband put in long hours at the base. Amy Jean and I occupied ourselves building a bomb shelter, which was never more than three feet deep and could not accommodate more than one person, much less two women and two babies. It did keep us busy.
At the Punahou High School we were given gas masks and instructed how to use them. Babies were not given masks. Mothers were told to carry a washcloth and a bottle of boric acid solution for them. we were worried about what we would do if we had to wear masks when the babies had none.
My husband was sent to the Island of Palmyra, about a thousand miles southwest of Honolulu, on December 23rd, two days before Christmas. We were told to pack all of our personal effects for evacuation at a moment’s notice. I sold our 1940 Ford to Army Procurement for $650, and felt fortunate as others were getting about $250 for the same year on used car lots in Honolulu.
Kay spent her first Christmas and several succeeding months in a packing box lined with quilts as all of our furniture was packed for evacuation. We finally evacuated the ship to San Francisco in late March. I arrived in Washington, D.C.,on April 11, 1942, the day before my 21st birthday.
My sister lived in Indian Head, Maryland. She had saved their Christmas tree for Kay and me. I knew my nine month old daughter would remember neither the tree or Pearl Harbor, though I would all my life.
In the years that followed, every December 7th, Amy Jean and I talked to each other on the telephone no matter where we were stationed. On December 7, 1989, Amy Jean called from Bakersfield to say “Aloha dear friend.” Her cancer was in an advanced stage. She passed away December 28, 1989.
Amy Jean was a model of courage. She taught me to remain cheerful and hopeful in spite of adversity. I am grateful to have been with her.