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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Friday, September 23, 2016

Monday, December 8th 1941

Monday, December 8th

FDR addressing Congress on December 8th 1941

                                        When I woke, cramped and stiff, and crawled out from under the workbench it was still raining lightly in the first light of dawn.  Dick had covered his beloved machine gun with tarpaper from the gardener’s shed.  Both he and Glover, wrapped in soggy blankets, were asleep sitting in two or three inches of red mud against the back wall.  I stood up and saw no one moving on the hillside.  The invasion had not come.
                                        Dick and Glover came to life.  Glover threw off the wet blanket and shivered.  “I don’t know about you two,” he said, “but I am one certified medical emergency.  Break out the commander’s Old Crow!”
                                        Dick demurred, “Hey, you know what he said!”
                                        “Bull hockey, brother, you think he gonna hand out Old Crow and not expect the seal to be broken after a day like we put in yesterday?!”  He reached under the bench for the bottle and broke the seal.  We passed it around and a pull at it made our muddy, wet, miserable conditions more bearable for the moment.
                                        Just at dawn, the exec cam by again.  I felt a bit guilty about the bottle of booze, but he never mentioned it.  He just told us that the island was quiet and that, hopefuly, the Japanese were not coming back right away.  The carrier ENTERPRISE and all available ships and planes were out combing the seas around Hawaii and had found no sign of the attackers.  He also said that breakfast could be had from a field kitchen that had been set up down behind the Ad building.  (I do not know why the main galley at the mess hall was not in use.)  We could stand down, clean our guns, and get something to eat.
                                        The rain was slackening to mist.  We carried the big 50-cal to the shed where Dick could field strip, dry, and lubricate it out of the rain.  Glover would help him and I, as the junior member of the crew, was elected to go get us some chow.
                                        It would have appeared to an observer that I was an infantryman, not a sailor, as I walked down across the base.  My uniform was solid red mud and coffee stain.  I was wearing the doughboy tin hat cocked at a jaunty angle and had a bandolier of ammunition across my chest.  The Springfield was slung by its strap from my shoulder.
                                        The cooks had a good chow line set up and were offering a full breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee.  I explained that we had three men in an outpost gun pit at the hill.  They provided me stacked containers of everything—enough to feed four or five men—and I trudged back to the shed.  We had another shot of Old Crow apiece then filled our empty bellies.
                                        Before noon, the word was passed that the island was secure and there appeared to be minimum danger that the Japanese would be back in the near future.  We were in stand down, turn in our guns, and assemble with all station personnel in the quadrangle before going to our barracks to clean up.
                                        We probably looked more like a rag tag mob than a military organization when we formed up in the quadrangle.  The base commander, Commander H.H. “Beauty” Martin, addressed us and gave us a concise report of the effects of the attack.  He complimented us on the manner in which we had responded with initiative and courage to the sudden sneak attack.  He stated that President Roosevelt had already addressed a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan.  (It was the speech that labeled December 7th, 1941 “The Day of Infamy” and would give rise to the war cry “Remember Pearl Harbor”.)  Congress had already approved the declaration and we were now officially and formally at war.  Glover nudged me and muttered, “Don’t’ know about him, but I have been officially and formally at war since yesterday morning!”
Burial of the Kaneohe dead following the December 7th attack

                                        The commander went on to recap our losses at Kaneohe and the fact that we had been effectively destroyed as an operating military command.  (Kaneohe was to go down in history as the most thoroughly destroyed military installation on the island.)  We had lost a total of nineteen killed at Kaneohe (including one Army private and one contractor’s employee) and more than 75 had been wounded, some very seriously.  Our one operational hangar was totally destroyed and we had lost all but three of our thirty-six airplanes (VP-11, VP-12, and VP-14) and those three had been transferred temporarily to Ford Island where facilities were still operation and more airplanes had survived because the attacrs were concentrating on battleships.
                                        Martin then stated that Ford Island was short of qualified combat crew members and volunteers would be accepted.  Almost half of the people present stepped forward and raised a hand literally in union.  He smiled and said that we could sign up at the Ad building after we were dismissed.  There was dead silence over the base while Martin closed by reading the names, rates, service and squadron of the nineteen people that had been killed.
                                        I was far enough up in line to sign up and be accepted for the Ford Island relief flight crews.  Dick and Glover were too far back (Glover shrugged later and said, “Hell—shouldn’t never volunteer for anything anyway!”) and would stay at Kaneohe to assist with cleaning up the wreckage and getting the squadron once more operational while we waited for replacement airplane to come in.
                                        That evening Dick, Glover, and I sat in the ships’ service beer garden with cold bottles of Acme beer, a local brand, Dick looked at me and said accusingly, “Hey, nipplenoggin, how come you went and got yourself on those relief flight crews?  There may be Japs out there anywhere—be just like you to get your butt shot off!”
                                        “I noticed the two of you didn’t hesitate to step forward and raise your hands!”
                                        “Well,” Dick said, “you don’t know what kind of shot-up airplanes you’ll be flying in or who you will be flying with either.  You think I’m going to like writing to the folks if you get out there and get yourself shot down?”
                                        “Speaking of the folks,” I answered, “we ought to send them a telegram that we are all right.  This shindig must have made headlines and you know how they will be worrying.”
                                        “Post office on the base wasn’t open today,” Glover stated, “I checked.  They said they would take telegrams tomorrow.”
                                        “Well,” I said to Dick, “I’ll be on the way to Pearl in the morning.  You be sure to get one off and I’ll write them first chance I get.  Don’t let him forget, Glover.  Mother will be worried sick.”
                                        We were all angry at the “slanteyes” and thirsting for revenge for the unprovoked sneak attack that had killed our friends and destroyed our equipment.  The Pacific fleet ahd been badly damaged and we barely constituted a “thin blue line” in the Pacific, but we turned our attention to waging war against the Empire of Japan in the Pacific with what little we had.  It had now officially become World War II and the war cry rang across the United States—“Remember Pearl Harbor!”
(Brother Dick can be a man of few words.  Recently after the death of our mother, I found his wire among her effects.  It said simply and tersely, ERNEST FRIEZE, EIGHTEENTH AND ESTHER, VANCOUVER, WA—BOTH SAFE MERRY CHRISTMAS—RICHARD FRIEZE.  He sure had not wasted much money on that wire!
                                        We did not know until much later that our mother was visiting our grandparents in the Ozarks on that fateful Sunday.  They had retired from the Bona store and moved to Greenfield.  She caught the next train home and did not know about Dick’s telegram util she arrived several days later.  Meanwhile, our grandparents wept for us during that time because of a rumor in Missouri that we had both been killed in the attack.  Mercifully for mother, the rumor did not start before she caught the train.  Amon her effects was a clipping from the little newspaper in Greenfield, Missouri, “The Vedette” published late in December.  It is headlined “Beware of Rumors” and reads as follows:
“War is productive of many rumors, and the government warning to disregard all rumors is wise.  Mrs. Ernest Frieze of Vancouver, Wash., who had been visiting her parents, Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Stanley of this city, left hurriedly for home on receiving news of the bombing of Hawaii, as her two sons, Richard and Conrad, are in the naval aviation service in the islands.  Shortly after her departure a rumor swept over the city that both boys had been killed, and although their names did not appear on the casualty lists and Mr. and Mrs. Stanley had had no word, the rumor persisted until a letter was received form Mrs. Frieze on her arrival at home, that a message had been received the boys, who were uninjured in the bombardment.”)