Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Lest We Forget: Memoirs of the date that lives in infamy.

Every December 7th, I made it my personal mission to write and publish an article about the event that had been marked by the late U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt as “The date that will live in infamy”, when he addressed the nation on December 8, 1941 the day after the Pearl Harbor attack.

This year, I would like to share the memoirs of military personnels, civilians and also Filipinos when they learned or witnessed the attack at Pearl Harbor sixty nine years ago.

May the memories of that fateful event that opened the war gates of hell bring us to the realization that freedom constantly rests on an uneasy ground. There will always be evil minded people in the world who will seek to deprive and destroy righteous human liberty.

Lt. Yoshio Shiga
Squadron Commander
Japanese Imperial Navy

Lt. Yoshio Shiga, an ace pilot and a Zero fighter squadron commander that attacked Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, wrote on his memoir that while he and his nine zero fighters where attacking the Ewa Airbase, he saw a U.S. Marine soldier standing on an open field unmindful of the machine gun fire striking all around him. This brave marine drew his side arm and emptied an ammunition clip towards Shiga’s plane as it roared past him. Shiga described that soldier as “The bravest American he had ever met.”

Pat Kirita
Kirita Nomura
Kamekichi Kirita
Japanese-Americans residents of Hawaii 1941.

The moment the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Pat Kirita Nomura's life changed forever. That day, her father was taken to jail.

"We heard the sheriff come and took my father and I remember my mother crying," said Kirita Nomura.

Kamekichi Kirita owned a store in Kohala on the Big Island. He would then be imprisoned at the Sand Island internment camp on Oahu.

Ralph Jeffers, USN Ret.
Crew member, USS Curtis
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

I was enjoying my breakfast when suddenly we heard explosions. Instantly, the loud speakers blared the dread words, “Attention! Attention! This is no drill! All hands to battle stations!”

The harbor was filled with bursting shells, machine gun fire, ships aflame and smoke rising everywhere. Planes overhead were clearly not ours but were Japanese with the distinctive Rising Sun emblem on their wings.

I ran down to the chief’s quarters and turned on the water that is used to cool the barrels of the guns. I returned to the gun and two other sailors brought ammunition and after loading the gun, we started firing.

The following action was witnessed by our gun crew from back of the fantail of our ship. I felt the three of us had a ring side seat witnessing the havoc that was happening all around our ship and the fleet assembled in the harbor.

The Japanese had already bombed the seaplane hangars at Ford Island. Many ships in the dry dock and in the channel had also been hit. Within minutes a submarine periscope was sighted on the starboard side of the ship. The Curtiss opened fire with main guns and machine guns. The Curtiss ceased firing when the U.S.S. Monaghan steamed alongside the submarine dropping depth charges. The submarine, while sinking, fired a torpedo at the Curtiss, missing it and the torpedo ran up into the Pearl City channel. During this period the Curtiss was being attacked by enemy planes and our ship responded with its anti-aircraft guns. A Japanese dive bomber was hit while making a diving pass at the ship's starboard side. The aircraft burst into flames and crashed in the No. 1 crane on the ships starboard side where it burned completely. The blast knocked the ship's No. 3 main gun out of commission and its crew was forced to abandon the gun temporarily.

Sometime after 9:00 AM, an enemy plane came in low over the bow of the Curtiss passing from starboard to port. This plane was hit by our forward gun crews. It crashed immediately. Shortly after, another enemy plane made a steep diving attack on the starboard side, releasing a bomb. The bomb hit in the vicinity of the same crane that was damaged previously, exploding below decks. The attacking plane was hit and crashed about 1,000 yards on the port side. The bomb set the hangar, main deck aft, and the No.4 ammunition handling room on fire. This fire put No.4 gun out of action and caused many casualties.

Francis L. Emond
Band Member US Navy
USS Pennsylvania

I was born on May 21, 1918 in Pawtucket Rhode Island. I graduated from high school in May 1935. In February of 1938, I joined the U.S. Navy as a musician. I had played the French Horn in the high school band.

In the summer of 1941, our band transferred to the battleship Pennsylvania with Admiral Kimmel, (Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet) and remained on this ship until May 1943.

On December 7, 1941, ten minutes before eight in the morning, our band prepared to play the morning colors at the fantail of our ship. At five minutes before eight in the morning, I looked up and saw a line of dive bombers coming in over the harbor. The lead plane dropped something and I watched it fall. It hit a hanger on Ford Island and exploded. I looked back at the planes and could see the big red spot on their sides and knew they were Japanese. We were under attack!

We left our position and started for our battle stations. At this time the alarm, “General Quarters, No Drill!” started ringing throughout the ship. As I was running down the starboard side of the ship, I saw a torpedo plane racing down the harbor entrance. He dropped his torpedo and I watched it explode in the ship at the dock behind us.

That evening we were issued rifles and ammo in case there was an invasion. I had the 12am to 4am watch patrolling the dock side of the ship. I walked with the rifle loaded and with my finger on the trigger.

Barbara Norek
Berkeley, California

Every Sunday our family went to the movies. Abbott and Costello was my father's favorite. I never could stand them but nevertheless we would all go. On December 7th my mother, father, two younger sisters and I were all in the car on our way to the movies when the announcement came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

“Oh, my God, we've got to go home”, my dad said.

On the back seat of our car there was an uproar of protests from all of us kids. “We want to see Abbott and Costello!!!!.”

“We can't,"
my father said. “Pearl Harbor has been bombed.”

“What's a Pearl Harbor?” we all asked.

“When we get home I'll take out the atlas and see if I can tell you about it.”

The following week they closed down the schools in Berkeley and everybody rushed around and bought blackout paper to glue over the windows to keep the light from shining through them. It was all very exciting because it was something different than what had been a sort of dull existence. Suddenly things were happening. People were in panic and my mother was crying worried that the end of the world was coming. It was exhilarating.

Rachel Wray

In August 1941, I had come out to Whittier, California, from Oklahoma to join my boyfriend George, who was in the Navy. In December George was going to take a thirty-day leave and we were going to make arrangements to get married. The day that he left San Francisco to hitchhike down to Whittier, Pearl Harbor was attacked. When George and his buddy arrived at seven o'clock that night, there was a telegram waiting for them asking them to return to their base. They left at seven the next morning. I saw him again for three days in June when the ship took on provisions in San Diego. I didn't see George until June of 1944.

Margaret Takahashi:
Los Angeles, California

It was Sunday morning in Los Angeles when we heard the news about the Pearl Harbor attack. We were too shocked to go to mass. At first we just didn't believe it. It was one of those things that was beyond belief. It was only when we heard other people talking about it that we realized that the news was true. We became upset, angry and outraged.

Later we started to feel worried and uneasy. Initially, I thought that the war would be over in a couple of weeks and everything would be all right again. I just couldn't believe that dragged on for years. In fact, Japan seemed to be winning and that was hard to believe. We had this feeling that America was so invincible. Compared to the United States, Japan was like an appendix which suddenly burst.

Henry Murakami
Los Angeles, California

On December 7th, I was umpiring a baseball game for the younger boys on the playground on Terminal Island and we got through late. We were the last boat to go out fishing that afternoon. When we reached the lighthouse in San Pedro, we were met by the Coast Guard. They came up to us and said, "Go back to the port and stay there until further notice."

We didn't know what was happening. We hadn't done anything wrong. But they wouldn't tell us anything. So we came back to the fish harbor. It wasn't until we got off the dock and heard all the radios that we understood why the Coast Guard had sent us back.

Dellie Hahne
Santa Barbara, California

At the time of Pearl Harbor I was twenty one, a music major at Santa Barbara State College. That Sunday I was having breakfast with friends. Somebody turned on the radio and flipped through the dial. We didn't catch the actual words that the announcer said but the voice was so tense and so full of emotion that we all froze.

I was absolutely stunned. My mother had told me how she had felt when war was declared in 1917. I thought, “My God, it's happening to me”. I felt the fear that enemy bombers would come and we would all he killed. It was a horrible moment.

In an incredibly short time, a wave of patriotism swept through the country. Everybody started saying, “This is our country, and we're going to fight to defend it!” When we got home that evening, we were glued to the radio. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played and everyone in the room automatically rose. The outward show of patriotism was something that I had always sneered at but we all stood and we all tingled. So the fervor started right off the bat. It was like a disease and we all caught it.

The next day we all returned to classes but there was a Japanese student in my art class who stayed in her room and was afraid to leave because of the attack. The art teacher mentioned this to us and we all thought, “Well, she should. We had no understanding, no pity, no tolerance. She was a Jap and that was that.”

Jorge Torralba
Manila, Philippines

I was almost 19 years old when I went to Manila as a first year college student in June 1941. I enrolled at the Philippines Normal School (now Philippine Normal University) with a two-year General Course in teaching. I also enrolled in the ROTC department.

On the morning of December 8, 1941, the residents of Manila heard the news from an announcer at DZRH radio that Pearl Harbor was attacked and the Pacific war has started.

I still went to school at 7am that day but when I got to school, the students that were not from Manila were told to return to their respective provinces. Our ROTC commandant gave a stern order to all ROTC cadets to report to the military drill grounds. Before lunch that day, we were issued World War 1 era M1 Springfield rifles.

Our Commanding Officer, a certain Romei Atienza, briefed us about our mission. He told us that as soon as we were issued arms and ammunition, we would be sent to Atimonan, Tayabas on January 1, 1942 to defend the shores of that province from the Japanese invaders.

The news headline on that day December 8th was scary. It said “PACIFIC WAR IS ON” in 2 inches tall letters.

On December 27, 1941 our commanding officer again called us for a briefing and tearfully told us that there were no ammunition and additional firearms that were found for us to use. That day we were disbanded as a unit and were told to return home to our provinces.

I went immediately to the Tutuban railroad station and bought a ticket for Mangaldan. While waiting at the train station, three waves of Japanese bombers appeared and bombed the military installations in Camp Murphy and Nichols Airbase. I got so scared that I ran away from the railroad station thinking that the station would be the next target. After thirty minutes, the bombing stopped and everything went back to normal again.

Cery S. Abad
Manila, Philippines

World War two started when I was only six years old. I was sitting on a barber's chair when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. My brothers and I were having our haircuts in preparation for my first communion. My father, a pediatrician, called from the Philippine General Hospital with an urgent instruction to our maid to bring us home immediately. Punk haircuts were not yet in style then and so I remember feeling mortified walking home with my head half shaved. The plan for my first communion was cancelled.

Corporal Al Beralas
Filipino civilian resident Oahu

On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, Al Beralas of Lihu‘e Camp, Kaua‘i, was a civilian worker building a fuel-storage tank with coworkers on Red Hill overlooking the harbor.

From the heights of Red Hill, Al and his co-workers watched in astonishment as Japanese aircraft zoomed overhead to bomb, strafe and torpedo the ships and shore facilities at Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, one aircraft veered off and dived toward Al’s position. Instantly, he and his coworkers scrambled for cover beneath their rock-hauling truck. Their truck was hit by bullets fired by the attacking Japanese plane but the truck’s metal bed shielded Al and his companions. Their quick reaction to seek cover saved their lives.

Yvonne L. Boucher
11 years old in December 7, 1941.
Military housing resident
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

On the morning of December 7, 1941 I was living with my mother, sister and stepfather in the military housing just outside Pearl Harbor. I was only eleven at that time. After the attack, a ship convoy was organized to transport military dependents to San Francisco, California. My mother, sister and I were boarded a ship named USS Grant.

While we were inside the ship, we noticed that two cabins down from us was Lt. Sakamaki, the Japanese submarine commander that was captured when his mini sub ran aground near Kanohe, Oahu, Hawaii. Lt. Sakamaki was being taken back to California for interrogation. As the cabins faced on to the deck, everyone left their doors open during the day. I saw the prisoner several times. He was guarded around the clock. He was very aware of his dishonor. Each day he was allowed to walk on the deck surrounded by many guards. It seems the guards were afraid that Lt. Sakamaki would jump overboard and commit suicide. While the prisoner was in his cabin, the guards stayed outside his door. One day, Lt. Sakamaki burned his cheeks with a cigarette, which was then the only means for him to punish himself due to shame.

There was a little girl aboard that somehow became acquainted with the prisoner. The guards allowed her to visit him once in awhile. He wrote her name for her in Japanese, which suggests that he knew at least a little English.

Sionil Jose
Rosales Town, Philippines

I was 17, a student in Manila, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1941. That same day, the airfield in Manila and other military installations in the Philippines were also bombed. Schools were immediately closed and I returned to my hometown of Rosales which was located about 30 miles from Lingayen. On December 25, 1941, Japanese troops landed at Lingayen and soon after came to the town of Rosales.

In the first month of occupation, the Japanese troops behaved and one can say that they were even cordial. But two months into the occupation, the Japanese sentries started slapping people for no apparent reason. It did not take long before terrible stories about the Death March reach us.

In July 1942, I went to the prison camp at Capas to look for a cousin, Raymundo Alberto, who had not returned from Bataan. All of the horror stories we had heard were confirmed on that trip. I saw hundreds of Filipino prisoners sick and dying. My cousin was not there.

During the occupation, food, medicine, clothing, and other basic necessities like soap and matches became very scarce. I would sometimes travel to Manila just to bring rice to my relatives there.

On one such trip I was stopped in Moncada, in Tarlac Province. My half sack of rice was confiscated by the Japanese and they beaten me up also.

I was in Manila during the first American air raid in September 1944. By that November, people in the city were starving. Some were forced to eat rats just to survive.

My mother, my cousin and I decided to return to the town of Rosales. We walked from Manila all the way back to the Rosales passing through empty towns. In the daytime, the skies were full of American planes flying so low that we could see the pilots. At night, the Japanese marched. We could hear them as we camped in the abandoned houses along the highway.

It took about a week of walking before we reach the town of Rosales. Shortly after our return to Rosales, American troops landed in Lingayen. I immediately joined the U.S. Army as a civilian medical technician.

Since our unit was with the combat engineers, we were often the first to reach liberated towns and villages. We would be met by grateful and starving Filipinos as we offered gifts of fresh eggs and live chickens.

Lt. Philip Rasmussen
Fighter Pilot, Wheeler Air Field
Honolulu, Hawaii

2nd Lt. Philip M. Rasmussen, a young American pilot stationed at Wheeler Field, was wearing purple pajamas when he awoke to hear the attack beginning.

“I saw our planes burning at Wheeler Field,” Rasmussen said in a 2002 interview. “But I also saw several P-36s that were intact.”

Rasmussen, still wearing his pajamas, managed to get airborne in a clunky, obsolete P-36. “We climbed to 9,000 feet and spotted Japanese ‘Val’ dive bombers,” Rasmussen said. “We dived to attack them.”

Rasmussen and three other P-36 pilots tore into a Japanese formation. Though his P-36 was slower than any of the Japanese aircraft, 1st Lt. Lewis M. Sanders got behind one of the raiders and shot it down. Second Lt. Gordon H. Sterling Jr. also shot down a Japanese aircraft but was shot down over water and drowned after getting out of his aircraft.
In his cockpit, Rasmussen charged his guns only to have the machine guns start firing on their own. While he struggled to stop them, a Japanese aircraft passed directly in front of him, flew into his bursts of gunfire and exploded.

Shaking off two Zeros on his tail, Rasmussen got his guns under control, raked another Japanese aircraft with gunfire, then felt himself taking hits from a Japanese fighter. “There was a lot of noise. He shot my canopy off,” Rasmussen said. He lost control of the P-36 as it tumbled into clouds, its hydraulic lines severed and tail wheel shot off.

Rasmussen did not know it yet, but two cannon shells had buried themselves in a radio behind his pilot’s seat. The bulky radio saved his life.

He landed his badly damaged aircraft without brakes, rudder or tail wheel.
Rasmussen was one of eight fighter pilots who got aloft at Pearl Harbor to mount an impromptu defense against the surprise assault. They shot down 10 of the 29 aircraft the Japanese conceded losing.

Awarded a Silver Star for his courage at Pearl Harbor, Rasmussen pursued a career in the Air Force and retired as a colonel in 1965.

He died in 2005, but his feat lives on at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where a pajama-clad mannequin scrambles into a P-36 cockpit at a display detailing his story