Friday, December 7, 2012

Day of Infamy

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Most of us know what happened after — it was in all the papers — but there was also a  story that never got published.  Maybe it was because of the graphic content, or perhaps because it was written by a woman, Elizabeth P. McIntosh.

On Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, I was working as a reporter for the Hono­lulu Star-Bulletin. After a week of war, I wrote a story directed at Hawaii’s women; I thought it would be useful for them to know what I had seen. It might help prepare them for what lay ahead. But my editors thought the graphic content would be too upsetting for readers and decided not to run my article. It appears here for the first time.

For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.

The seven days may stretch to seven years, and the women of Hawaii will have to accept a new routine of living. It is time, now, after the initial confusion and terror have subsided, to sum up the events of the past week, to make plans for the future.

It would be well, perhaps, to review the events of the past seven days and not minimize the horror, to better prepare for what may come again.

I have a story to tell, as a reporter, that I think the women of Hawaii should hear. I tell it because I think it may help other women in the struggle, so they will not take the past events lightly.

I reported for work immediately on Sunday morning when the first news — Oahu is being attacked — crackled over the radio, sandwiched in a church program.

Like the rest of Hawaii, I refused to believe it. All along the sunny road to town were people just coming out of church, dogs lazy in the driveways, mynas in noisy convention.

Then, from the neighborhood called Punchbowl, I saw a formation of black planes diving straight into the ocean off Pearl Harbor. The blue sky was punctured with anti-aircraft smoke puffs. Suddenly, there was a sharp whistling sound, almost over my shoulder, and below, down on School Street. I saw a rooftop fly into the air like a pasteboard movie set.

For the first time, I felt that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you. It’s the helplessness and terror of sudden visions of a ripping sensation in your back, shrapnel coursing through your chest, total blackness, maybe death.

The vision of death became reality when I was assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital.

It may have been that no one wanted to hear about the awful toll of war on the innocent when you’re gung-ho to go kill the yellow horde.

I’m very glad Ms. McIntosh finally got to publish her story.  It adds dimension to the memory.

3 barks and woofs on “Day of Infamy

  1. I remember my grandparents and parents talking about this awful day. Rest in peace all of you brave souls who were in Hawaii that terrible day.

  2. Dad never talked much about the war – not in that sort of detail. He was on his way to Annapolis (metaphorically) when Pearl Harbor happened, and Mum was already at university.

    Dad’s first ship was at Pearl, but survived, and was a veteran long before he was: he joined her in ’44.

    Interesting that you bring up this report: in today’s BBC news there’s an article about a new interactive map of the Blitz bomb strikes.

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