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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Night Fall on December 7th 1941

Burning PBY at Kaneohe NAS December 7th 1941

After dark, we cursed the fact that the fire in the wreckage of the hangar was still burning.  It made a perfect beacon for possible night air attacks.  The sky had become cloudy but it was possible to dimly see the ramp area in the weak light of the flickering flames.
At one p
“At one point Dick moved to the machine gun, swung it toward the hangar area, and pulled the charging handle.  Glover said sharply, “What the hell are you doing, Dick?!”
“There’s something down there by the hangar!  See, look at those black shapes—men crouching down!”
“You silly shit,” Glover growled, “them ain’t men—they’s a bunch of old oil drums, that’s all!”
“If they are oil drums,” Dick retorted, “how come they keep moving toward us, huh?”
The argument was interrupted by a rifle shot, then a sudden burst of 30-caliber machine gun fire from up on the hill behind us.  Glover and I snatched up our rifles and charged them.  We could hear a voice yelling “Cease fire!” then there was silence but people were moving around.
After a few minutes Glover said, “I’ll just slip up that way and see what the hell is going on.”  He slipped over the parapet and Dick hissed. “Sing out when you come back or we may get trigger-happy!”
Glover slid back into the gun pit in then minutes.  He  reported, chuckling, that a seaman on watch had got to fiddling with his rifle and shot himself in the foot.  A nearby machine gun had opened up and cut the other leg from under him.  He had been taken away to the infirmary.
All was quiet in the darkness for some time and we began to relax, believing that if invasion came it would be at dawn.  There had been no further reports of enemy troops on the island and the “invaders” up near the Mormon Temple had proven to be a group of workmen.  We decided to try to get some sleep.  Dick offered to take the first watch and said he would rouse one of us in a couple of hours.  Glover huddled down on the dirt floor of the pit, wrapped in a blanket and leaning against the back of the pit.
I ventured out of the pit and, toward the gardener’s shed, found some boards and a sheet of corrugated roofing.  I put them at the base of our sandbagged wall and rolled into my blanket on the boards with the corrugated tin propped over me.
I lay there sleepless, my rifle at my side.  It seemed that the day had been a week long.  Everything had suddenly changed.  The scenes burned indelibly into my memory passed in review.  The hangar offices had burned out, including Ensign Foss’ wooden desk with my examination package, and the nice young ensign had been the first man to die at Kaneohe—probably the first man to die in the Pacific war since the Zeros had hit us nearly ten minutes before they first bombs feel at Pearl Harbor.
There was a reason for that, I mused.  The Japanese would have known that Kaneohe was a PBY base (they had found a detailed map of the base in the pocket of the pilot we had shot down) and that the PBY was the one airplane with the range to take off and find the attacking aircraft carriers.  That must be why they worked us over until all our airplanes had been destroyed on the ground.
My soliloquy was interrupted.  There was the sound of an airplane engine approaching Kaneohe and the air raid siren went off.  I knocked aside the corrugated tin and shot into the gun pit.  Dick was swinging the machine gun toward the sound.  The airplane was apparently coming in for a landing on the fighter strip at the north end of the base.
Earlier that afternoon, fearing that the strip might be used for enemy landing, the base first lieutenant had scattered vehicles and oil drums at random down the length of the strip to make it unusable.  The precaution was in vain.  The airplane proved to be a Navy carrier plane.  I never heard what he was doing there in the middle of the night; however, being low on fuel he turned on his landing lights and landed successfully by weaving his way through the obstacles.
When things finally settled down sometime after midnight, it was raining.  The red dirt in the bottom of the gun pit was turning to sticky mud.  I offered to take over the watch, but Dick said, “Naw, I’m not sleepy—you and Glover get some shuteye.”
Not wanting to go back under the tin outside, I found that there was some room in the dry under the workbench gun mount on top of the spare ammunition.  I curled up under there and, overcome by exhaustion both physical and emotional, feel asleep while December 7th, 1941 passed into history.

[That night, thousands of miles away, my grandmother lay in the dark at her cousin's house in Bona, Missouri, listening to the radio reports about Pearl Harbor and wondering if her two oldest boys were still alive.  As a mother I can identify with her heartache.]