Pearl Harbor 75 Years Later: Remembering The Morning 'Everything Changed'
75 years ago, Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The strike killed more than 2,300 people and propelled the United States into World War II. The anniversary brings back memories not just for those in the military but those who lived in Hawaii. Molly Solomon from Hawaii Public Radio brings us some of those voices.
It was a morning Charles Black would never forget -- as he recalled, 75 years later. It was a Sunday and a neighbor called to say they were under attack. So he raced from his house in the Tantalus mountains to a one lane road along the ridge. Amid the lush trees on the mountainside, Black’s fears were confirmed.
“From the water and on the other side of it was nothing but smoke,” said Black. “We could see planes diving down this end, some of them coming back up again. There were explosions and a lot of smoke and a lot of fire.”
Black, then six-years old, remembers his neighbors crouching behind a stone wall. But he and his brother stood in disbelief, peering down at the destruction. Suddenly, several Japanese planes turned back toward the mountains. They flew so close, he and the pilots looked at each other.
“We could see the rising sun on the wings. The lead plane, the cockpit was slid back. It was less than 100 feet above us, it was really close,” he said. “I could see the pilot with his leather helmet, and this is just emblazoned in my mind, the leather helmet with the flaps turned up, looking at us as they went right over the top of us.”
Black wasn’t the only one watching planes fly overhead. Milton Hironaka saw them as he was walking to church with his parents. He figured it was just another military drill.
“We thought the U.S. Air Force was training,” said Hironaka. “Because prior to the attack, they used to fly over the city and they used to have simulated interception.”
Hironaka, who was four-years-old at the time, remembers his parents were scared about the bombing -- and fearful because they were Japanese. After the attack, military police rounded up families in his neighborhood and sent them to internment camps on the U.S. mainland.
“My parents were really afraid, they being Japanese,” said Hironaka. “They were worried and concerned because now the United States was fighting against their homeland.”
Anyone on Hawaii at the time had their own story. For Barbara Del Piano, news of the attack came as her family was gathering for waffles after church. A neighbor called and told them to turn on the radio.
“And the voice of the announcer was saying, ‘the island of O‘ahu is under attack. Everybody take cover. The island of O‘ahu is under attack. The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor,’ recalled Del Piano. “Over and over he repeated those words which are etched in my memory forever.”
Del Piano and her family hauled mattresses into the living room and spent the rest of the night huddled around the radio. The next morning, Del Piano who was 12 at the time, woke up to a different Hawai‘i.
“Everything changed after that. Never again was Hawai‘i the same,” she said. “It was so sad to see our casual, easy way of living disappear overnight.”
Schools were closed, mail was censored, and food and fuel were rationed as Hawai‘i was put under martial law. Del Piano, now 87-years-old, said these events forever changed her life. And as painful as they are, she knows it’s important to remember.