“Day of Infamy”
Sunday, December 7th, 1941
In my dream I was lying on my back in my grandma’s back yard in Bona, Missouri. I was near the row of hollyhocks and sweet peas along the kitchen garden fence and there were a couple of big yellow and black bumblebees buzzing around the flowers. Every once in a while, one of them would swoop close, annoying me when I was trying to sleep.
Suddenly I woke and became aware that I was not in the Ozarks but in the barracks, lit by the morning sun, at Kaneohe Bay. The bumblebees were airplanes diving and snarling overhead and past the barracks windows. The man in the bunk next to mine was sitting up in bed craning his neck.
I rolled over, still annoyed. “What in the hell is going on out there? Sunday morning is a helluva time to be out flying!”
My shipmate shook his head, “Dunno—got a glimpse of one of them and it was a khaki colored fighter plane. Must be the Army out on maneuvers again with a mock attack.”
I rolled back over. “Well, I wish they would take their noisy damn maneuvers somewhere else and let a fellow sleep!”
Just then someone in the day room looking northeast toward the hangars called out, “Hey, they sure are making their maneuvers real—someone has set fire to a barrel of oil or something down by the hangar! Lots of smoke coming up.”
Now wide awake, I got out of my bunk clad in just my skivvies, and walked to the day room. A huge column of black smoke was boiling up from the ramp area and drifting west toward Kailua. Others came and crowded around the windows.
“Looks like a helluva big barrel of oil to me,” I commented.
There was suddenly an inexplicable silence and an air of apprehension in the room. Just then a snarling airplane came diving down across the officers’ country on the hill and banked low over the Ad building where the color guard was just forming for morning colors. It was a single-seat fighter with a radial engine and streamlined plexiglass cockpit enclosure. It had a tapering tail and wing and was painted olive green on top and grey on the bottom. Both the wing and fuselage bore large solid red circles and there was a band of color around the aft fuselage.
Someone called out, “Hey, ain’t that a Jap insignia?”
An aggrieved voice answered with a snort as if unwilling to believe they were Japanese, “Naw, them is those old Army P-40s with radial engines—think they call them P-36s. They are the Reds for maneuvers. Pretty soon the Blues will be here to chase them away.”
The fighter that banked past pulled up into a wingover then dived back toward the hangar area. We watched in horror as tracers reached out from it toward our parked airplanes.
“Army, hell,” someone shouted, “THEM’S JAPS! WE GOT US A WAR!”
WAR—the word sent a shiver up my spine. I froze where I was for a minute and watched on of our new PBYs burst into flame and add to the smoke now pouring up in greater quantity. The whole group turned and surged toward our lockers for our clothes.
As I hurriedly pulled on dungarees, shirt, and shoes I had another Somnumbing thought—my brother Richard would be down there at the hangar just finishing third shift. It was still five minutes short of colors at 0800. We had been hit ten minutes before.
The barracks was a scene of confusion as excited voices called out and men scrambled to get some clothes on. I grabbed a white hat, slammed my locker door, and raced toward the head and the back door. Someone got a hold of an arm and shouted, “Don’t go out there, dummy,--they are shooting up the place!”
I yanked my arm free, “Gotta go find my brother—he’s down at the hangar!”
As I slammed through the double doors someone was still shouting, “Frieze! Frieze! Come back here, you knot head!”
I leaped down the three steps from the breezeway between barracks buildings just as another fighter dived on the area with its machine guns spitting tracers uncomfortably close. I hit the coarse grass and red dirt, but the pilot’s attention was on a car speeding down the street toward the hangars. I did not see if he hit it—I as trying to burrow into the ground.
The enemy plane pulled up and headed out over the bay as I leaped up and ran full tilt down the street. The noise was abating as the several airplanes that we soon learned were the new Japanese Zeros, all pulled away and headed out toward Chris Holmes Island to form up to leave.
I pounded down the street past the mess hall and around the corner past the fire house. When I came into view of the parking ramp, it was a shambles. Under the pall of black smoke, I could see PBYs already down on the ground burning fiercely. Near the first one, I skidded to a halt and watched as the aluminum skin burned like tissue paper. In the intense heat, a solid aluminum propeller blade curled over as if it were made of wax. The heat on my face was like a blast furnace.
A combination of sweat and tears poured down my face as I raised my fists to the sky and shouted insanely, “You bastards—you miserable stinking bastards!”
The noise of the airplanes was receding as I continued on toward the hangar beyond the smoke. There I began to meet men straggling away from the hangar toward the sick bay and barracks. Some of them walked as if in a trance. One man was supporting another whose dangling arm dripped bright red blood on the pavement. I scanned each face for a sight of my brother. Among them was one of our ordnancemen. He was shirtless—I recall that he had several tattoos on his arms and chest—and was carrying a 03.06 Springfield rifle. His eyes were fixed straight ahead and his face expressionless.
I caught his arm and called him by name, “Have you seen my brother? Have you seen my brother Dick Frieze?!”
The man was obviously in shock. He looked at me with vacant eyes, pulled his arm free, and walked on without a word in return. I proceeded toward the hangar though the smoke scanning the people moving about for a sign of my brother when a voice haled me. It was a CPO with a group of men trying to push one of the airplanes not yet on fire away from one that was buring furiously. “You there! Bear a hand!”
I joined the group, putting my shoulder to the wing strut. We had gotten the big airplane a few yards away from the fire when a hand fell on my shoulder and, with a feeling of relief, I heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, Bub, where were you when the shit hit the fan—sacked out?”
It was Dick. Some of the tension went out of me when I found he was not hurt.