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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Recovery of Pearl Harbor

Sunken remains of ARIZONA

Between December 10th and December 20th, I was in the air with one crew or another for nearly a hundred hours.  We continued to find nothing but empty ocean in all directions from the island.  The weather was, as usual, perfect but the blue sky and sharply-defined horizon were ominous.  Our rage at the Japanese was unabated and we longed for a chance to strike back.  The Japanese, however, had sailed back to their homeland islands.
I got my one day of liberty while I was at Ford Island on Sunday, December 21st.  It was not very satisfying.  First of all I discovered that I had packed neither my black silk neckerchief nor my good liberty shoes.  I borrowed a neckerchief from Gibson then did the best I could with black Shinola liquid shoe polish on my scuffed work shoes.  At least my one suit of whites and my white hat were crisp and clean right out of the laundry.  It got me by—the JOOD (Junior Officer of the Day) inspecting uniforms on Landing A let me board the liberty boat.
Pearl Harbor was recovering rapidly from the sneak attack.  The waters of the bay were almost clean except for slicks of oil still forming from the blasted and sunken hulk of the ARIZONA and the capsized OKLAHOMA.  Across the East Loch, the wrecked destroyers, CASSIN and DOWNES, had been removed from the dry-dock and the PENNSYLVANIA looked nearly ready for sea.  Cutting torches still flared on the superstructure of the ARIZONA which would be shipped back to the states for use as material.  The slanted bottom of “the Okie” was deserted—the remainder imprisoned were long since dead and would remain entombed until the ship was righted later.  The crew of ARIZONA would stay where they were.  The ship had already been declared a memorial and would remain forever in commission in the United States Navy with her crew aboard (It still is in commission.) [Cannot help but cry about this.]
The whole atmosphere of Hawaii had undergone a radical change after the attack.  The scene was the same—palm trees waving in the soft breezes, cloud-studded blue sky, white surf rolling onto the beaches—but the blue ocean, the sky, and the horizon were ominous.  The Japanese could be out there anywhere, anytime.
There was no Nimitz freeway from Pearl Harbor to Honolulu in those days.  Only a two-lane dusty country road through the kiave trees that was perpetually being worked on by road crews.  The liberty bus slowed as we passed one of those work crews.  They were mostly Japanese laborers.  Their almost-eyed round brown faces stared up at us as we passed.  For a moment I felt a wild urge to smash in those faces.  (It would be years before I lost that animosity for anything Japanese.) [But he did and made friends in Japan, but that was much later.]
Beyond the oriental road crew there was a typical little white-trimmed green Hawaiian house nestled in some scraggly banana trees.  In the red dirt dooryard there were three or four Japanese-Hawaiian small children at play.  They looked up at the sailors on the bus with wide innocent cheerful grins and waved gaily.  I did not wave back at the children, but my bitter thoughts were suddenly replaced by a feeling of shame for having had them.  I closed my eyes and leaned against the window frame.  It’s not those people that caused it, I told myself—it is the fault of those sonsabitches Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini! I had heard the rumors that on the west coast of the United States Japanese were being rounded up and sent to “relocation camps” away from the coast.  Presumably, the same thing was happening to Japanese-Hawaiians here on Oahu.
When I got off the bus in Honolulu, I crossed Beretania to The Black Cat for a drink.  It was the first liberty weekend for any service personnel since the attack.  The bar was jammed with the white, khaki, and green uniforms of sailors, soldiers, and marines.  I gave up and wandered on down South Hotel Street toward the Honolulu CafĂ©.  With early curfew and blackout in effect the many cathouses were doing a daytime land office business.  There were waiting lines of servicemen down the stairs and onto the sidewalk at the Honolulu Rooms and the New Senator Hotel.
It was not for me.  I retraced my steps, went uptown, and caught the Number Seven bus to Waikiki.  Wartime and martial law had changed Waikiki as well.  The lei stands and souvenir shops were open; however, there were more service uniforms on the street than civilian tourists.  The famed beach at Waikiki was deserted and was lined with coils of barbed wire against possible invasion.  The military, having been literally caught sleeping, had over-reacted almost to the point of paranoia.
The Waikiki Tavern was comfortably crowded but I found a stool at the end of the bar and ordered a drink.  I saw no one that I recognized from Kaneohe so I simply sat and ordered one drink after another while I chatted with the bartender and whoever happened to take the stool next to me.  When I realized that the tip of my nose was getting numb—I had learned that was a signal that I had enough—I walked unsteadily down to The Wagon Wheel Restaurant, ate a ham steak with fried bananas (the specialty of the house), caught the city bus back down town, then the Navy bus back to Pearl Harbor.

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