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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Evening of December 7th

As the day wore on, other men wandered by.  There were many rumors, most of which later proved to be false.  Japanese cane cutters in the fields out by Ewa had cut huge arrows in the cane fields pointing at Pearl Harbor to guide the attackers.  A Japanese milk truck driver had been caught by the Marines on the base at Kaneohe with a radio beacon hidden in a milk can.  Japanese troop ships had been sighted off Kauai and invasion could be expected.  Japanese troops dressed in dungarees had landed up the coast by the Mormon Temple and were working in our direction.  The ARAZONA had blown up and was lost with all hands (the only rumor that day that was true!).
None of us gave a thought to the fact that we had not had breakfast until a truck pulled up and mess cooks gave us each a ham and cheese sandwich, an orange, and a warm bottle of Coca Cola.  We wolfed them down hungrily.
A little later another truck backed up to the bomb crater and we were ordered to load our guns and ammo onto the truck.  Expecting invasion, we were to set up a “strongpoint” for a last stand on Hawaiiloa Hill.  We were the front line.  Other men were digging pits all over the hillside behind us.
We were beyond the station nursery.  Nearby there was a gardener’s shed that proved a godsend.  It was padlocked but we forced the lock.  Inside there were shovels, a mattock, and—best of all—a heavy workbench with a vise at one end.  It would be ideal for mounting the 50 caliber.
All we knew about machine gun nests was what we had seen in old World War movies.  We dug a semi-circular pit into the red earth at the base of the hill and dragged the workbench to it with the vise on the inner end.  In the shed we found some empty five-gallon tins and a bunch of empty fertilizer sacks.  They made great sandbags.  We shoveled them full of the red dirt and built a chest-high parapet covering the end of the workbench.  Dick was to man the machine gun (by then he considered it his own and fussed over it as if it were a baby) and Glover and I would take positions with the rifles on each side of the workbench.  We laid bandoleers of rifle ammunition and the Springlfields ready on the parapet.  Dick had a new case of ammunition and some loaded spare magazines for the machine gun.
As we finished, an hour or so before sunset, the squadron executive officer came by and approved our work.  He reached into the back seat of his car and produced a bottle of Old Crow bourbon whiskey.
“Men,” he said “we do not have any first aid kits to distribute.  This is the best I can do—courtesy of the officers’ club.  Let me warn you, though.  It is strictly for emergency medical purposes.  I’ll have the crow of any man caught drunk and he will go to sea on a destroyer!”
Dick took the bottle and placed it under the workbench with our spare ammunition.  Meanwhile the exec was surveying the hillside which teemed with men digging gun pits.  A look of dismay came over his face.  “Damn,” he said, “those white uniforms are going to make great targets in the dark!   Need to do something about that.”
He drove off in the car.  Thirty minutes later a truck pulled up nearby and two sailors unloaded garbage cans full of strong black coffee.  We were instructed to pull off our whites, dip them in the coffee, put them on wet, and roll in the red dirt.  It made camouflage that blended nicely with the dirt of the hillside.
Another truck came by before dark and distributed a blanket to each man.  It had also been distributing some World War vintage doughboy steel helmets but was down to one left.  It was tossed to Dick.  He looked at it and tossed it to Glover.  Gloved snorted, “I don’t want that piss pot!” and tossed it to me.  I looked at the ominous sky, thought about the bullets that had been flying around that morning and might be that night, and put it on.
The cooks had not forgotten us.  At dusk a truck pulled up under the big tree that was our command headquarters and unloaded two more garbage cans full of beef stew.  There was another of fresh coffee.  Our supper consisted of a paper cup of stew each which we had to eat with our fingers.
After our evening chow, such as it was, we settled down to watch in our gun pit.  There was much talk about invasion.  We agreed that two shiploads of soldiers could easily take over Oahu with all the confusion and lack of preparedness.  Glover’s comment was, “Shee-it, boys, if it come at us tonight, tomorrow we will either be dead or we will be pulling rickshaws over the Pali!”
We also agreed that, if the Japanese were coming, they would not come up the narrow peninsula from the land side.  They would more likely come ashore right on our ramp.  Outposts had been established down near the hangars to give warning.  Otherwise, the base had essentially been abandoned and we were dug in for what might be a last stand.

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