It was 1935. I was twelve years old, in the beginning of the eighth grade at Roosevelt Junior High School in San Diego. I left school as usual that day and went as usual to my mother’s office in the Spreckles Building where she worked as a secretary/ receptionist. To my surprise, there was my stepfather Leslie leaning on his knuckles on her desk. I had never seen him in her office before. I realized later that he was wearing his whites—not regulation for San Diego. He had just learned that his ship was bound for Hawaii, and was to be stationed at Pearl Harbor.
As I walked in he said, “Carrie, would you like to go to Hawaii?” “Sure,” I answered, without another thought. Who wouldn’t like to go to Hawaii? Visions of Bing Crosby wearing a lei and crooning “Blue Hawaii” made me smile. Dream stuff. That was the last time I saw him until the following June, when our ship, the Matsonia, docked in Honolulu.
Thus it was that our lives’ decisions were made. I hadn’t known he really meant we were going. I hadn’t known he meant we were to live there. But go there, we did. Live there, we did.
Within a few weeks my mother got a job managing an apartment-hotel right on Waikiki Beach, adjacent to the Army’s Fort DeRussy, on the far side from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. One day I was coming home from school and noticed a small group of soldiers slinking across the street. I noticed them because soldiers usually did not slink—they swaggered. I took a few steps closer, looked into the shrubs where they had disappeared, and found myself looking directly down five rifle barrels. I froze with terror. Then one of the soldiers said, “Click, you’re dead.” Then they got up and walked away between the houses. I went on into my own house, and told my folks, and they told me that the Army was having maneuvers, that it had been announced in the newspapers.
Also, at about that time I was interested in an article in the morning Honolulu Advertiser. It was at the bottom of the front page, two columns wide, and about five inches deep. It said that Japan was claiming the Hawaiian Islands as their territory. When I asked my folks about that article, they told me that Japan had been claiming the Islands for a long time and no one paid any attention to it. But we all knew that at that time the Island population was 40% Japanese, 30% Chinese, 15% Caucasian, and the other 15% was made up of Hawaiians, other Polynesians, Filipinos, and others. That was in 1936.
By the time I was graduated from High School in 1940, the influx of American Armed Service men was overwhelming. We young women had dates every night of the week, and twice on the weekends.
Leslie, my stepfather had retired after 30 years in the Navy. He was called back into the Service, and shipped to the Caribbean where, from a “Destroyer Tender,” he worked on the destroyers that had been fighting in the Atlantic and come back to port to be repaired and sent out again.
By January of 1941, there were Marines, fully prepared for battle, patrolling every street and alley over the Island every fifteen minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Machine gun nests, fully manned and ready for action, were camouflaged in many bushes and hedges.
One Saturday night an Island boy I dated regularly took me out on a double date. After the dance the other couple drove us up to the top of Diamond Head, as the saying goes, “to watch the submarine races.”
I didn’t care to watch the submarine races, so I got out of the car in my white organdy formal, and started walking. Suddenly, out of the night appeared a soldier pointing a rifle at me. He was saying, “Halt or I’ll shoot. Halt or I’ll shoot. Halt or I’ll shoot.” He looked no older than seventeen, and seemed to be scared as his voice quavered. He talked so low I could not have understood him if I hadn’t heard that that was the required command. I called out, equally scared, “I’ve halted. I’ve halted, I’ve halted.” At that point Gordon caught up with me, escorted me back to the car, and we drove back down to the highway. I learned later that Diamond Head, an extinct volcano, was the site of an ammunition dump.
With Leslie gone and war seeming imminent, my mother decided we should get back to the Mainland, and got us booked on a Navy Transport Ship. We sailed to San Francisco in February of 1941. She felt we would be safer inland, away from the coast, so she bought a small house on a couple of acres about twenty miles east of Santa Rosa, California. She and I lived there, awaiting the end of the war and the time Leslie would return home. I was going to Santa Rosa Junior College.
On December 7th, 1941, she was in bed, knitting. I was up—perhaps I had been out and just come home. The radio was on, and the news flash came through that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. She lay there stunned, and then cried, “No, no!” She flailed her legs as though having a temper tantrum, and then she was quiet for a long time.
I remember nothing more than that. For myself, I was always completely bewildered that the U.S. armed forces could have been so surprised when they had been preparing for an attack for so long.