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How Pearl Harbor Changed My Family

My father, Adrian Gerard Sira, moved to Hawaii from New Jersey in 1934 during the height of the Depression in search of a job. He was a widower with an infant daughter named Elaine whom he left with his first wife’s parents on Long Island to raise because he could not cope with being jobless. His intention was to bring Elaine out to Hawaii with his second wife, my mother, as soon as he got settled.

Dad began teaching math at Hilo High School, sent for my mother when he had the money for a ticket for her to travel across country and the Pacific Ocean. Elaine did not go out on that first trip for unknown reasons 

My parents lived in Hilo where my sister was born and then moved to Oahu where he began working at Pearl Harbor in 1938, the year I was born. We lived in paradise in a small house near Waikiki for the next three years.
 

On December 6, 1941, my father went to work on the night shift at Pearl Harbor, expecting to leave for home at 7:00 the next morning. That morning our lives changed drastically. I remember standing outside in our yard (I was 3, my sister 5 and my mother 5 months pregnant with my brother) with our neighbors, looking at the sky as planes flew over our house.  I remember the adults saying that those were not American planes…they were Japanese! 

For the next several days, my mother had no word from my father…communications were rather sparse out there…and we could see smoke rising from the direction of Pearl Harbor.
 
When Dad arrived home safely except for some burned hands, we learned that he had been getting ready to leave for home when they were attacked. He’d spent the next several days rescuing people, putting out fires, and doing whatever was needed to survive.

Dad never really told how he felt witnessing the bombing of those warships, especially the USS Arizona.  I think it was just too horrific an event for him to talk about. 

After that we were ordered to move closer to the base since Dad’s skills as a machinist were critically needed.  With gas rationing it was essential that he ride a scooter to work rather than use our car.
 
For the next four years our lives revolved around the war effort. 

My brother was born during a blackout. Conversations always included talk about the war. I can’t say it was an unhappy time for me as life went on as usual with school, including taking my gas mask with each day, and the usual childhood activities.

Several times we were awakened during the night to go to the neighborhood bomb shelter. They were scary tunnels with huge cobwebs and big red ants (to this day I still keep my bathrobe nearby in case of a nighttime emergency!).

The war years gave my father a stable career at Pearl Harbor that continued until his retirement in 1962.  He loved working for a cause and always felt proud of his contribution on that Day of Infamy in 1941.  He took us on trips to the base, and we were even allowed to go out to the submerged USS Arizona and stand on its huge overturned side.  Little did I know at that time that there were bodies inside that ship…we were not disrespectful at all but in some way my father was reminding us of what happened on December 7th.  I still get shivers thinking about it.

Recently I went to a Pearl Harbor Survivor event, eager to tell my story about my father.  The civilian side of this story may never be told in its entirely as their contributions have been overshadowed by the more dramatic events of that day.  
 
 

The biggest change for our family was that it was impossible for Elaine to be reunited with my father and his new family. She stayed back in New York and was raised by her grandparents. When the war was over, it was too late as by then she was a teenager and had her own life back East. Also other troubles were brewing like a dock strike and the Korean War. 

We wrote letters to her and did not meet until many years later as adults. My father did visit her when his job sent him back East. I think there were hard feelings on all sides that the war created this huge divide in our family.

While I cannot return to Hawaii for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Habor this coming December, I will be going back next summer with my daughter and her family. Of course we intend to visit Pearl Harbor, visit the USS Arizona memorial, and throw a lei into the waters where my father’s ashes were spread many years ago.

— Sally Sira Bright

Pearl Harbor Clinched It

My father was a medical officer on a ship patrolling the west coast of South America when Pearl Harbor was bombed. His ship was harbored in Callao, Peru.

He had been dating a woman who he hoped to marry. Pearl Harbor clinched it. He called her at her family’s home in Manhattan and proposed.

Dad’s ship was headed for Vallejo later in December. My mother did not want to miss Christmas with her family so they agreed to meet in Reno, Nevada, where they could marry after a 24-hour residency.

Mom resigned from her job with Young & Rubicam and left home on the day after Christmas. Meeting in Reno, they took separate rooms in the Hotel Cortez, met with a priest at the cathedral to arrange for the ceremony and bought two $15 gold rings.

They were married the next morning.
 
— Martha Counihan

Watching from a Kitchen Window

I was 23 days short of my 5th birthday on December 7, 1941. My father, Oren S. Blennerhassett, was stationed at Wheeler Field. 

My mother first saw the hangars down the street burning.  We then saw the Japanese planes flying overhead from our kitchen window.  Being so small I could see the pilots in their leather helmets from where I was in the adjoining room.  We had a very large picture window in our kitchen.  The neighbor next door was killed while he was watching the action from his kitchen.
 

My mother had friends who lived in the country. They took our family in and we stayed there until my mother, grandmother and I were put on a Navy ship and sent back to the mainland. I remember having to participate in a life boat drill in very stormy, choppy seas.

We arrived in San Francisco on Christmas Day 1941. I was upset because only the children were fed Christmas dinner but not the adults. My mother and I went to live with my aunt and uncle in Maywood, Illinois, and my grandmother went to my uncle’s house in California. My father remained at Wheeler Field  but was sent home when he became ill and spent several months in the hospital until his recovery and reassignment to Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado, where he was the Sgt. Major for several years.

When he came home I remember my mother and I went to meet him at the train station. He was on a stretcher and we could only see him briefly. It was late at night and we were staying in a hotel. It was Easter and when we went back to the hotel there was a large Easter bunny and an Easter basket waiting for me.

To this day I don’t know how my mother pulled that off.  She was an amazing woman.
 

— Katherine Blennerhassett Robinson

Hey, I was there!

In 1941 my family lived in the town of Kalehe in Honolulu, Hawaii.  My dad was a Chief Petty Officer stationed at Pearl Harbor.

On December 7, 1941 about 7 a.m., my sister Ima Jean and I were playing outside on the roof of a neighborhood taxi stand waiting for our dad to come home and join us for breakfast.  He was port duty officer and had to stay on board to hand out liberty passes on Sunday morning.  I leaned later that he was half way home when he realized the the base was under attack and he turn around and went back to his ship. 

Kalehe is about 15 miles from Pearl Harbor and my sister and I could see the smoke rising from the burning ships. Occasionally planes with a big red dot painted on the side would fly over the town, and being kids we waved and they waved back! 

My dad was at the time the senior Chief Petty at Pearl and since he had lost his ship, he had his choice of the fist available billet open for a Chief, which turned out to be a submarine. Dad’s boat set out for the South China Sea and we didn’t see him again until nearly a year after the war ended. 

It wasn’t until years later when I was studying history in school that I realized what my sister and I had witnessed. And when we got to the part about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I jumped up and said “Hey I was there”.

— Robert F. Wilson

P.S. I always call my brother Tom on his birthday. He was born a year and a day after Pearl Harbor. 

Arriving on December 7

My mother and her three year old daughter arrived in Pearl Harbour on the SS Dickenson just as the first bombs fell in the harbour. She had been evacuated from Fanning Island in the Line Islands due to the risk of Germany attacking the island as they did in WW1.

The crew and passengers on the Dickenson were watching the events, wondering if the U.S. Air Force was being too enthusiastic
in their bombing practices, and they were quite annoyed initially.
 

It was then realised that the planes were Japanese, but the little ship made it to a wharf and I have a record of how the usual formalities
were abandoned in order to get the crew and passengers safely ashore.
 

Fortunately my mother knew a few people in Honolulu and she and my sister were well catered for in the turmoil.  After a month or so, they
managed to sneak into California to wait for a convoy to get to Australia, their destination.  It took a three months’ wait.

My mother had warm memories of her time in the USA in the midst of the country’s scramble to go to war.

— Nari Strange

(Click on the image above to see the entire Dec. 7, 1941 passenger arrival list of the Dickenson. Nari’s mom and sister’s names are listed on page 3; page 2 contains additional details.)

Grandpa Enlisted … and the Japanese Quickly Retaliated

My grandfather, Marion Berness Brady (left, with brothers Elwood and Keith), never talked about his war experiences … with one exception. This was a story he took great delight in retelling and always in the third person:

“On the 6th of December, 1941, Berness and Elwood Brady joined the United States Marine Corps. The next day, the Japanese retaliated.”

I always doubted that Grandpa and his brother actually joined on December 6. Then I found them in the Utah, Military Records, 1861-1970 database on Ancestry.com, and it proved Grandpa was right.

— Jennifer Utley