Category Archives: History

Typed in darkness, a letter describes the day after the Pearl Harbor attack

“Another night, and we are again in darkness. It will be another long dark night of waiting and watching.”

That’s how my mother began a letter to her sister, typed in darkness during the blackout on December 8, 1941, a day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Click on the letter, below, to read a larger version.

from my mom to her sister

The short, half-page typed letter reflected rampant rumors (continuing raids on Pearl Harbor or Hickam, and “skirmishes” involving planes flying over head the night of December 7, machine gun fire on Kahala Beach, flares fired by Japanese sympathizers, etc.).

My mother’s parents had driven from their home in Waipahu and moved in the day before. On the 8th, She wrote that my father had gone to his job as a manager at the downtown Honolulu office of Dohrmann Hotel Supply Company, a San Francisco-based wholesaler of restaurant and hotel equipment and supplies. Her father and younger brother drove back to Waipahu to retrieve their stored canned goods, fearing they might otherwise be lost in an uprising by plantation workers. Meanwhile my mother and my grandmother went up the hill to Kaimuki in search of food, and managed to to get “liver and meat for stew that will keep us in food for this week.”

It’s an interesting bit of family history that sheds light on the historical events of the day.

December 7 was my dad’s birthday

I’ve recycled this post a couple of times in the past, as it is so appropriate for December 7. I’ve updated it slightly, but it’s otherwise unedited.

Kahala Beach 1940December 7, my dad’s birthday. He would have been 103 today. At one time, I thought he might very well live to this age. Instead, he passed away in 2010, shortly before his 97th.

Now that we’re here in Kahala, and walking on Kahala Beach every morning (with other people’s dogs), it seems appropriate to repost this photo of my parents walking the same beach, probably soon after they were married. That was in December 1939, so I’m guessing this was perhaps in 1940 or so. They rented a house for a while on Kealaolu, just past Farmers Road. Then in early 1942, they bought the house where they would live for the rest of their long lives. And we moved back to that property a few months ago after completing major renovations.

In the photo, they’re walking with Kiki, my mother’s dog. That appears to be Black Point in the distance. Familiar territory. And those look like large crab holes in the sand. You don’t see those along that beach any more.

We walk the same stretch of beach these days, at least on some mornings, a sort of continuity that I’m still coming to terms with.

And, of course, December 7 is synonymous with the attack on Pearl Harbor. My parents told of being wakened by a telephone call from my mom’s mother in Waipahu, telling about what she described as the unusually realistic maneuvers underway.

But years later, I found a letter my mother wrote to her sister on December 7.

Here’s what I posted about it a couple of years ago.

It was in a box of papers uncovered yesterday afternoon as I slogged through another section of a small storeroom at my parents’ home in Kahala. The papers are dirty, faded, and covered with a fine layer of dust and rather old looking termite droppings and other bits of unknown origin. The papers included bits of genealogy, a collection of British newspapers reporting the funeral of King George VI and the coronation of Elizabeth, a carefully tied bundle of Bonnie’s school work from first through third grades, etc., etc. Then there was a small sheet of blue paper, folded in thirds. I immediately recognized my mother’s clear handwriting.

It’s a letter from my mother to her sister, Marguerite, written late on the morning of December 7, 1941, my father’s 28th birthday, as machine gun fire could be heard overhead and puffs of smoke seen in the sky.

The paper is brittle, there’s some old termite damage, but this treasure survived.

I’ve transcribed it below. You can see the original letter here.

Dec. 7, 1941
11:30 a.m.

Dear Margot:

Something is brewing but we don’t exactly know what the score is. We were awakened by a telephone call from Ma this morning saying that Japanese planes were bombing Pearl Harbor. I had a big head from a party last night so didn’t talk very much. She told John the house was shaking like a leaf. We’ve been sitting here watching the shooting. I wish I were at Waipahu to see more of it. We have to be content with just watching the puffs from the shots.

Every 10 minutes an announcement is made over the radio for people to report for one thing or another. The latest report is total blackout tonight. We still don’t know whether this is real or not. Jimi was called for sea-scout duty early this morning. All ROTC students are getting their equipment. I guess they’ll patrol the streets. One funny thing happened today. We went out to the street to watch them haul cannons. The soldiers were throwing kisses to all the gals along the street.

Guess we’ll have to stay put today. We can’t use the telephone anymore & we can’t drive our cars, so here we are.

11:50 Well, there goes the radio. Station KGMB has been ordered off the air. Governor Poindexter is declaring a state of emergency on station KGU. There come the planes!! Oh, oh, and machine gun fire right above us. I’m getting jittery! Shucks, this letter won’t get to you anyway; might as well quit.

The letter was never mailed, and my mom saved the original all those years. At this point, I deeply appreciate her inability to throw things away.

See December 8: Another 75-year old letter written in the dark on the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Throwback Thursday: Opening presents at the Circle Jade

Opening presents c.1973

Another oldie: Meda and I opening presents in our apartment in the Circle Jade building near the corner of 9th Avenue and Waialae Ave in Kaimuki.

This was most likely late in 1973 or early in 1974. I’m judging that based on my hair, which was a similar length in a TBT photo from the same time period posted last week.

I don’t see signs of Christmas, so maybe it was Meda’s birthday, which would have been in January. Or perhaps back to my birthday in August of ’73.

Note the graduate student lifestyle. A folding table and chairs made up our dining set. The bookcases of wood planks on concrete blocks. A few things on the walls, a hand-me-down lauhala mat on the floor, with pillows that we used when laying to the floor to watch television on our tiny portable tv.

It was an unusual apartment, with floor to ceiling glass louvered windows that let in lots of light, and unfortunately also allowed lots of rain to be blown in during bad weather.

Oh, can you find the cat?

The presents: A timbale iron, which consisted of two molds that you would put on the stove and fill with a batter. We both have vivid memories of the time I got a phone call mid-timbale, and our cats running up and down the hall crying as smoke starting filling the kitchen from the burning timbale. The bigger box was a home winemaking kit, a plastic container and some grape mix and yeast, along with instructions for adding water and turning the whole thing into wine. We managed to quickly contaminate the whole thing as we managed to drop some piece into the mix, then got tongs to retrieve it and somehow dropped them in, and failed in an attempt to fish both out using long chopsticks. The wine was, in short, a rapid failure.

When did hand-foot-and-mouth disease become common?

A friend who we walk with in the mornings was telling us today about one of her grandchildren’s bout with hand, foot, and mouth disease.

It’s described online by the Mayo Clinic as “a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children.”

But none of us baby boomers recall having, fearing, or ever hearing about a malady like this when we were kids.

So is this a relatively new disease? A mutation of some previous virus?

According to online sources, it starts with a fever and just not feeling well. Within a few days, though, it will likely result in:

• Painful, red, blister-like lesions on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks

• A red rash, without itching but sometimes with blistering, on the palms, soles and sometimes the buttocks

And, it seems, the patients fingernails and toenails may fall off. WHAT?

Here’s a description from the Children’s Hospital Colorado:

• Peeling of the fingers and toes is common. It looks bad but is harmless. It happens at 1 to 2 weeks. Use a moisturizing cream on the raw skin.

• Some fingernails and toenails may fall off. It occurs in 4% of severe cases. It happens at 3 to 6 weeks out. Trim them if they catch on things.

• Fingernails grow back by 3 to 6 months and toenails by 9 to 12 months. They will look normal.

Seriously. This is the kind of thing you would remember, or at least you would have later heard tales from your parents if they had to cope with you during a bout of this disease with fingernails and toenails falling off. That would get parents’ attention, I’m sure.

So what’s the story? Is this new? if so, when did it arise? And when did it become “common”?

JFK assassination takes back seat to today’s political drama

It’s November 22.

For decades, the date would never have slipped by without numerous news reports retelling the story of the assassination of JFK on this date in 1963.

But this year, it’s very different. There’s so much disturbing post-election news that there are far fewer mentions of the historical significance of the day.

In 1963, prior to the assassination, there were a lot of far right-wing attacks on the president, some from The-South-Shall-Rise-Again quarters, others from anti-communist conspiracy types and the John Birch fringe.

Those same forces reemerged this year as part of the Trump campaign. Some have now been elevated into key roles within the Trump transition, perhaps moving into the new administration.

After Kennedy was killed, the racist right in the south was emboldened, setting up a violent clash between the civil rights movement and the underbelly of the southern establishment.

But LBJ was able to harness the national revulsion at the assassination to press his reform agenda in congress, and although it was a battle, the right lost out to Johnson’s New Society and to legal advances in civil rights and, eventually, voting rights.

Today we’re at a similar crossroads. The ultra-right has again been emboldened, this time with Nazi rhetoric and “Heil Trump” salutes being openly and proudly displayed.

But this time, it appears unlikely the new president will use the public’s opposition to open racism in order to to push progressive reforms. Quite the opposite seems more likely.

And that makes it a whole new ballgame. It’s not going to be pretty.

See also:

Kennedy assassination at 50: We’re still in “nut country”
Nov 22, 2013.