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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hawaii Goes on War Alert

On November 26th 1941 Hawaii suddenly went on a war alert.  Scuttlebutt had it that the Secretary of War had sent out a “war warning” message.  Working hours were extended to 1600 (4 PM).  We put ramp sentries on our neatly lined up airplanes to guard against sabotage.  We were also ordered to fly evening patrols with the airplanes fully armed for the first time.  We had ammunition for our machine guns and under the wings that were two five-hundred-pound contact bombs and two 375-pound depth charges, all armed.  We simply raised an eyebrow when Lt. Clark informed us that our orders were to report, attack, and sink anything in the Hawaiian Defense Area flying a Japanese flag.
(In retrospect, those evening patrols would not have been effective even if the Japanese fleet had been approaching from the direction we searched.  Our flight path in each sector—and we did not have enough airplanes to cover the whole 360 degrees—was 350 miles out, thirty miles across and return.  A simple time and distance calculation shows that, had one PBY been flying directly at Admiral Nagumo’s fleet on a patrol limited to 350 miles out, the PBY would have returned back fifty miles short of the point where Nagumo would have had to be in order to race in and launch his airplanes 250 miles out at dawn.)
We on 11-P-11 flew two of the evening patrols during the last week of November.  We saw nothing but broaching whales and thousands of square miles of empty ocean.
Also during that last week in November, VP-11 was supplied with kits of parts to install self-sealing fuel cells in the port gasoline tanks of the airplanes.  They were neoprene rubber cells with a core material that would seal any bullet holes the wing might collect in battle.  We were also furnished kits of armor plate for installation on the fifty caliber machine guns, the back of the pilots’ seats and behind the tail gun position in the tunnel compartment.  Special crews were formed and I wound up on the second shift evening crew.  Dick was less fortunate—he was assigned to the third shift crew that would work midnight to 0800.  Tropical working hours were no more.  We were to work seven days a week until all the airplanes had been modified.  We were girding for the war that everyone felt was inevitable.
Another event of that fateful week was that on Thursday, December 4th, Ensign Foss notified me that my examination packet for the Annapolis prep school had arrived.  It was to be an eight-hour examination under his supervision.  He said we would schedule it for Monday, December 8th.  In the meantime, he had said nothing to anyone and would keep the packet locked in his wooden desk in the squadron offices.  My heart sand and I was almost jumping for joy.  Glover was the leading petty officer of my second shift crew and he kept shaking his head at the way I bucked rivets for the armor plates on 11-P-4 until midnight—whistling cheerfully and smiling or grinning the whole time.
“Damn, young Frieze,” Glover finally said.  “You look like a cat with canary feathers in its teeth!  What the hell has got into you?”
I just shook my head and grinned wider, “Nothin’, Glover, just feeling good, that’s all.”
He shrugged, shook his head again, and pulled the trigger on the riveting gun.
Earlier that week I had received a letter from Elaine in which she told me that two of my VHS classmates would be in Honolulu with the Willamette University football team to play the University of Hawaii team on Saturday, December 6th.  I wangled special liberty on Friday the 5th and went into town in the evening.  The WU team was staying at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki.
It was the usual peaceful Hawaii evening.  The coconut palms lining the boulevard waved in a soft evening breeze.  The sidewalk lei stands near the Royal Hawaiian filled the air with the delicate odor of pikake and ginger blossoms.  In the fading sunset there was the usual air of tranquility and no hint of the danger that was heading toward us from the vast reaches of the North Pacific.
The football players were not allowed out of the hotel after supper so I visited the two of them from VHS in their room, a corner room overlooking the beach and the ocean.  They had not been close friends of mine (I no longer recall their names), but we visited for a while.  They duly admired my crisp white uniform and I asked about mutual friends at home.  During the conversation one of them wanted to know why there were so many servicemen on the streets of Honolulu.
I recall my answer clearly, and the two of them were to quote it in Vancouver when they finally got back stateside.  It was really just a bit of bravado, “Hey, we’re sitting on a powder keg out here, boys, and one of these days someone is liable to light the fuse!”
They just laughed (and I joined them).  We had no inkling that two days later we would be in a shooting war and they would be walking beach patrol as volunteers to assist the Coast Guard and Army while they waited for transportation home.  A Japanese attack on Hawaii could not have been more inconceivable to us or, indeed, to anyone.  We were sure that if the Japanese pulled anything it would be somewhere in the Far East.
Since the football players were confined to the hotel for the night, I wished them luck in the game the next day (I do not recall who won that Saturday), said goodbye and wandered off to the Waikiki Tavern for a couple of drinks before I caught the “Red Peril” back over the Pali to Kaneohe.
On Saturday afternoon, since I had the duty that weekend, I again worked on the second shift ground crew on airplane 11-P-4 in the hangar.  The armor plate installation ahd been completed.  We drained all the gasoline out of the big wing fuel tanks and ventilated them in preparation for installation of self-sealing cells in the port tank.
It was not an easy job.  The big black rubber fuel cells had to be collapsed and worked into the integral fuel tanks through small manholes barely large enough for a man to get through worked into position, then joined together with rubber crossfeed tubes.
We had all but one of the cells in place when we were relieved at midnight by the third shift crew who would work until eight on Sunday morning.  My brother Richard and his pal Joe Brooks were on the relieving crew.  I recall that Joe was kidding Dick about a crap game in the head from which they had just come.  Dick had always been a much better poker player than a crap shooter and he never knew when to drag some money after two or three good passes.  He had once more gotten on a roll and ran up a pot of two or three hundred dollars.  Instead of dragging a stake, he shot it all, rolled box cars, and came away broke.
I went to the barracks, showered, and rolled into my bunk blissfully aware that the next day was Sunday and I could sleep in late.  I would miss morning chow in the mess hall, but I went happily to sleep anticipating getting up at leisure and wandering over to ships service for some bacon and eggs.

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