History has etched Japan's surprise Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor in the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as "a day that will live in infamy."
On Friday, the 71st anniversary of the attack that took the lives of 2,390 Americans, Paia resident Bill Tavares remembered it as the day when "all hell broke loose."
Paia resident Bill Tavares gestures while speaking Friday during presentations on memories of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Tavares, 91, was a student at the University of Hawaii. He recalled hearing explosions when “all hell broke loose.”
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Students Isabelle Theobald (from left), Keila Harris, Christopher Theobald and Connor Kong listen Friday as A-Plus coordinator Cheyenne Branch reads “Pearl Harbor Warriors” at Pomaikai Elementary School. They were participating in a Read Aloud event featuring the book “Pearl Harbor Warriors.” Friday was the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II. The children’s book by Dorinda Nicholson tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Pearl Harbor survivor Richard Fiske and Japanese fighter pilot Zenji Abe.
LINN NISHIKAWA photo
Hiroshi Arisumi (left), a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Paia resident George Kahanu, who was working at Pearl Harbor as a welder on the day of the attack, await their turns to speak during Friday’s event at the Kaunoa Senior Center.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Tavares, now 91 and then a student at the University of Hawaii, shared his memories of that day and its aftermath with more than 90 people who attended a presentation at Kaunoa Senior Center.
Other featured speakers were Paia resident George Kahanu, who was a welder working at Pearl Harbor the day of the attack; Hiroshi Arisumi, a veteran of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team; and Brian Moto, son of 100th Battalion veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Kaoru Moto.
While Tavares was in his second-story dorm room, Kahanu, now 95, was earning $1.06 an hour working with a welding crew at the Pearl Harbor shipyard.
It was 7:55 a.m., he recalled, "and, all of a sudden, Boom! Boom!"
"We were looking out at Hickam Field," Kahanu said. The welders saw smoke and decided to see what was happening.
"We walked out, and just about then a Japanese torpedo plane . . . coming around . . . and dropped a torpedo. Big splash. A couple of second later, boom! Is this real? A couple of seconds later another bomb explosion."
"Right about that time, a dive bomber from someplace . . . coming over and dropped a bomb. I said, 'Oh, my. We're dead.' And what happens? The bomb went between the ship and the pier and exploded."
Kahanu said the welding crew ran back into its shop, and "all day long, we were watching explosions, bombs, shots going off."
Then, finally, at midnight, somebody said, "You boys can go home now."
Kahanu went on to recount the damage sustained at Pearl Harbor during the attack.
At the time, Tavares was miles away at his university dormitory in Manoa.
"I turned the radio on, and the announcer says the dreaded words, 'Hawaii is being attacked by the forces of Japan,' '' he said. "My first reaction was one of complete disbelief. Then a cold fear gripped my body."
Tavares ran downstairs where he and other students gathered around a radio to hear the news.
"The memories of that terrifying Sunday morning are getting dimmer," Tavares said. "But a few stark events are forever burned into my memory."
One of those was hearing a warning, via the radio, that Honolulu's drinking water had been poisoned. He said he stuck his finger down his throat and vomited water that he had consumed earlier.
Later, on the day of the attack, Tavares and a friend risked violating a martial law order to stay off the streets and went to pray at a Catholic church near Punahou School.
He recalled telling his friend, "If I'm going to die, I'm going to die in church."
While he was attending a Mass at church, the attack's second wave came, Tavares said. And the priest urged people not to hold the surprise attack against Hawaii's local Japanese population.
Tavares said he and a Japanese-American friend went to Queen's Hospital to donate blood, which was desperately needed, because "hundreds of men were slowly bleeding to death."
He said that as he approached the hospital, he could see "stacked up coffins, ready for use, lined up against a wall."
Tavares said the days after the attack were filled with anxiety as Honolulu residents "waited for a dreaded second attack."
One fear was that the city might be bombarded with poisonous gas.
"We got so scared," he said. "Some of us rolled up our blankets, ready to go up into the mountains. It was awful living in that fear."
Tavares credited Kahanu and other workers at Pearl Harbor who helped quickly repair dozens of ships that returned to fight the Japanese Imperial Navy, leading to the defeat of the Japanese at the June 1942 Battle of Midway. That became a turning point in the Americans' favor in the war in the Pacific.
Arisumi, a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, shared his memories of serving with the 232nd Combat Engineer Company, which was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. His unit served in Italy and France. The soldiers built bridges and helped clear land mines and others left in waterways, he said.
Moto told the story of his father's heroism during the war. On July 7, 1944, Kaoru Moto, a scout, had gone far ahead of his unit and attacked three German machine gun crews. Killing Germans and taking others prisoner, Moto was wounded by a sniper but still managed to launch a third attack against the Germans, his son said.
Brian Moto, an aide to University of Hawaii Maui College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto and former county corporation counsel, said that he learned about his father's heroism from others because his father never spoke about his wartime experiences.
At a separate event Friday at Pomaikai Elementary School, students from Pomaikai, Lihikai, Haiku, Kihei and Kilohana elementary schools took part in a Read Aloud event, listening to readings from "Pearl Harbor Warriors." The children's book by Dorinda Nicholson tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Pearl Harbor survivor Richard Fiske and Japanese fighter pilot Zenji Abe.
The event was sponsored by the National Park Service and Pacific Historic Parks.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.