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Pearl Harbor Stories: A Day in the Life of a 13 year old

She always got up early to have breakfast with her Dad.  That Sunday was no different.  Blanche and her Dad, Louis, were having a quiet breakfast in the kitchen while the rest of the family slept.  Then, oddly, there were planes flying down the gulch behind the house outside the window.  Her Dad said that they were Japanese Zeros and jumped up and ran to the phone in the living room.  He called Pearl Harbor Naval Base where he worked as a carpenter and told the guy that answered the phone that there was at least a squadron of Japanese Zeros on their way to Pearl.  The guy on the phone told Louis to go sober up and hung up on him.  The air in the living room turned blue as Louis cursed at the phone operator and watched in horror as the first bombs began dropping on Pearl Harbor.  

Blanche was just 13 years old that Sunday and the life that she had known ended that day.  As she sat at the table in the kitchen, she could see the faces of the Japanese pilots as they flew past the kitchen window.  When her Dad was on the phone she leapt to the front kitchen window and also witnessed the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor.  At first she didn’t quite realize what she was seeing, but when an bomb struck the Arizona, she saw the bow of the ship rise up out of the water as the ship blew apart.  She understood that Hawaii was being attached.  Later she would grasp the bigger picture that America was being attached but for now, her home was under attach and she was afraid.   She could see men jumping off of ships all over the Harbor trying to avoid being burned or drowned as the ships burned or went down.  She could see the flames in the water and the fierce black smoke from the stricken ships.  Soon and mercifully, that thick black smoke would blot out her view from the kitchen window.    Slowly, the sounds of explosions diminished but the acrid smell of fuel oil burning remained and the sun was blotted out.

By mid morning another strange thing was going on.  Women and children were trudging up the hill from down below.  People were all around the normally secluded farmstead.  Apparently, the officers housed in Aiea at McGrew housing, had told their families to take cover in the hills surrounding Pearl Harbor.   They, like everyone on Oahu, were expecting landing craft and an invading army to come ashore at any moment.  These families remained camped on the property for the better part of a week after the attach.  Blanche and her family sharing what they had with them.

Blanche never returned to the plantation school she had been attending in Aiea.  Her Dad insisted that she and her siblings go to school in downtown Honolulu after December 7th.  She didn’t go to school for more than three weeks.  When she did get back to school, she learned how to don a gas mask and evacuate the school building to a trench dug in the school yard during air raid drills.  She learned how to search the skies for zeros and the beaches for landing craft.   She heard the stories of what Pearl Harbor was like after the smoke  had clouded her view; of the hell of coffins stacked up on the piers.  She could smell for herself the awful smell of death as it wafted on the trade winds.  She watched, stunned, as neighbors and friends were rounded up and sent to undisclosed internment camps.  It would be decades before she knew where some of them had gone, others she would never know.

A little more than a year later, Blanches’ beloved father would pass away leaving her devastated and adrift.  Her mother would struggle to keep the farm and the family together.  Blanche would grow older and in time become a chronological adult, but the reality was that she became an adult on December 7th 1941.

Blanche was a Pearl Harbor survivor and she was my Mom.  We talked often and at length about what she witnessed and what her life was like after that dreadful day.  Some memories were funny, some were sad but all were colored in the hues of human suffering from that day forward.  This is just some of her story.

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