remembering pearl harbor

Today marks 66 years since the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet Base at Pearl Harbor. 

December 7, 1941, was a Sunday, so my father, who worked as a boatbuilder at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, did not have to go to work. At home in Schofield Barracks, he heard the roar of several aircraft flying low overhead and shooting.

“I ran outside to see what was going on. I could see several airplanes circling and zooming close to the ground. All of a sudden, one of them came really close to me and dropped something that hit the ground with a loud thud and splashed dirt high into the air. (I later learned this could have been a bomb and was a dud.) This frightened me, so I ran back into our quarters. Later, we were instructed along with many others to gather at one of the barracks buildings. An officer there told everybody that we were being attacked by Japanese war planes and that we were now at war.”

My mother was only 17 at the time, a senior in high school. “I was living in Wahiawa (about 30 miles from Pearl Harbor). I remember hearing a lot of noise, i.e., fighter planes flying overhead and the sound of guns. At the time, I thought it was some sort of Army maneuvers, which were often held at nearby Schofield Barracks. Then, much later, we learned we were being attacked by Japanese war planes and that there were some casualties in our town caused by the attack.”

Three years later, my mother was one of the first 59 women from Hawaii to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps. She took her basic training at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, before being assigned to Camp Stoneman in California.

Today, at age 83, she says that serving in the WAC was the most meaningful thing she ever did in her life. When I think about it now, I realize how brave she was, just 20, leaving her family and the protected environment of a small, isolated island, to travel to the mainland during uncertain times. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor unified the country as never before. A deep sense of patriotism prompted people like my mother, from all ethnic backgrounds and social classes, to serve in whatever capacity they could.

In 1996, Alvin Singleton was commissioned to write an orchestral piece for the 100th anniversary of the Olympics. Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995, composed the original text to complement Singleton’s work. They called it, “Umoja:  Each One of Us Counts.” (Umoja is Swahili for unity.)

The Arizona Memorial is a tomb for the 1,102 crewmen who were killed when their ship was hit by a 1,760 pound bomb. But it also serves as a memorial for all those who perished on that fateful “date which will live in infamy.”  Rita Dove’s eloquent words speak of those who made the ultimate sacrifice early one Sunday morning.

by Rita Dove

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

One went the way of the water,
one crumpled under stone;
one climbed the air but plunged through fire,
one fought the fear alone.

Remember us, though we are gone.

A star flares on an epaulet,
a ball rolls in harm’s way;
the glowing line onscreen goes flat,
an anonymous bullet strays —

Remember us! Do not forget!

(Read the entire poem here.)

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews.


8 thoughts on “remembering pearl harbor

  1. Wow! That’s a touching piece. Thanks for sharing, Jama.
    While we sit here in the middle of this senseless war, one realizes there were wars that made more sense. As absurd as that notion is.


  2. Thank you for sharing such a touching part of your life history with us. Putting a face, a name, a family, on those involved makes it all the more real.
    Wonderful post for the day.


  3. TadMack says:
    There is very little written on ethnic minorities who were WACs, and I have read a lot of histories in order to try and create a young adult novel about the women who served. Three cheers for your Mom — and your Dad, for teaching you to be another person who won’t forget.


Comments are closed.