On Sunday Morning, December 7, 1941, six-year old Dorinda and her parents were listening to the radio when they heard airplanes and loud explosions. “The planes were so low, just barely above the roof tops, that we could see the pilots’ faces and even the goggles that covered their eyes.” Their kitchen was on fire and parts of the roof were gone. There was smoke everywhere. Trying to flee to safety, they saw one battleship was upside down and others were on fire.
They took refuge in the sugarcane fields on Waimano Home Road above Pearl Harbor, joined by their Pearl City neighbors, confused and afraid. They were later evacuated to a sugar mill in Waipahu, where they sat in darkness, slept on the floor, and witnessed an exchange of gunfire over Pearl Harbor, 10 miles away. After four or five days, the evacuees were allowed to return home. Nicholson’s family found many bullets in the walls of the house. Her dog Hula Girl was later found hiding in the crawl space under the house.
“Pearl Harbor Child: A Child’s View of Pearl Harbor From Attack to Peace” (2001) Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson is part-autobiography, part-historical narrative about the attack on Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It is written for children, with short chapters that give a brief introduction to the effects of the war, but everyone can sink into the fear and confusion of the survivors, the struggle to live in war times, and the uncertainty about the future. There are stories from other Pearl Harbor survivors, a short account of a December 6, 2000 ceremony aboard the USS Missouri, and a map of the Pearl Harbor area.
The book begins with a Hawaiian legend of Pearl Harbor, in which a clever yellow shark named Ka’ehu tricked and captured a man-eating shark named Pehu who had been killing Ka’ehu’s people. It’s a story that warns children that evil exists, but so do good people who are willing to protect the innocent.
Nicholson’s personal account begins when her family moved to Pearl City, Oahu in 1940. Here writing is evocative, descriptive, personal, and easy to read, with amazing historic and personal photos. Her story continues through war times, when food became scarce, barbed wire was put up along the coast line, and bomb shelters and trenches were constructed.
“Our school had a bomb shelter, but most of us were scared to go inside because it was dark, smelled bad, and had bugs.” Everyone wore gas masks; “They were to be carried everywhere at all times.” Currency was exchanged so that the Japanese could not use American money. Block wardens ensured blackouts and curfews. Mail was censored, and there was gas and food rationing. “Ration books became a way of life.” Women joined the war effort. Everyone made attempts to contribute to the war effort, by buying war bonds and stamps, and recycling (there is a photo of three Hawaii Scouts collecting old tires to be recycled for use on combat vehicles). Nicholson’s family planted a victory garden for fresh food and even raised rabbits for meat, which made her more determined to work in the garden.
Nicholson remembers the night of August 14, 1945, when Japan surrendered. As they drove through Pearl City, fireworks lit up the sky, neighbors banged pots and pans and chanted “The war is over,” and the air raid sirens sounded, along with the gas alarm gongs and whistles from the ships. Unfortunately, their home and all civilian property were condemned on the peninsula, and they had to sign their deed over to the Navy. They stayed for seven years after the war ended, and eventually built a new home at Halawa Heights, where they could still see Ford Island.
Over 70 years have passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The war and the internment of Japanese Americans should not be forgotten. If you lived in Hawaii at that time, I urge you to write down or record your experiences. If you were born after the war, I urge you to talk to those you know and record their experiences.
My own grandparents didn’t talk much about the attack on Pearl Harbor or keep any mementos of the war. They quietly kept the house stocked with canned goods, saimin, soap, and toilet paper. When I was older, I finally asked my grandmother the war. She told me that she worked at Pearl Harbor making concrete blocks, and later as a checker in a warehouse. She said, “Things were hard to buy. Butter was so hard to get and each person cannot have more than one block of butter. Bread was hard to get. We all had to have a card in order to buy food and so we all have enough food to eat, thank God. The Japan War was still going on, still going on, and our men were shipped off the island to fight.”
Read more about Nicholson’s experiences and other eyewitness accounts and watch videos on her website at www.pearlharborchild.com.