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Legends of the Pacific: Remembering those who fought (and died) in Attack on Oahu

Private First Class Joseph Nelles, 17th Air Base Group chaplain assistant,
was killed Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, while preparing the altar for Catholic
Mass. (Courtesy photo - PACAF History Office)

Private First Class Joseph Nelles, 17th Air Base Group chaplain assistant, was killed Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, while preparing the altar for Catholic Mass. (Courtesy photo - PACAF History Office)

The old Hickam Chapel had originally been constructed on Luke Field (Ford
Island). During Hickam's construction, this chapel, along with many other
facilities, was disassembled on Ford Island and ferried across Pearl Harbor
to Hickam Field for reconstruction. (Courtesy photo - PACAF History Office)

The old Hickam Chapel had originally been constructed on Luke Field (Ford Island). During Hickam's construction, this chapel, along with many other facilities, was disassembled on Ford Island and ferried across Pearl Harbor to Hickam Field for reconstruction. (Courtesy photo - PACAF History Office)

JOINT BASE PEARL-HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- This is the first of a series of accounts detailing the courage, sacrifice, and sometimes heroic service of military members stationed on Oahu, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. On Veterans Day and in the final weeks leading up to the 70th Anniversary of the Attacks on Oahu, we honor these veterans - both living and dead - for their service to our nation. The 15th Wing and Pacific Air Forces will be honored to have many veterans of the Pacific campaign of World War II -- along with some Dec. 7, 1941, survivors - here to commemorate the 70th Anniversary.

In addition to the more than 2,000 brave Americans lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor, 238 Airmen and civilians assigned on Oahu - at Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and Bellows Field, as well as defense and radar sites on island - were killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks.

Here are the stories of our Veterans!

"Big Joe" and "Little Joe"

The present day Hickam chapel, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is named after Private First Class Joseph "Big Joe" Nelles, the Catholic Chaplain's assistant. Pfc Nelles is known to have died when a bomb completely destroyed the base chapel Dec. 7, 1941, while he was preparing the altar for Catholic Mass that Sunday morning.

In a letter to his parents, the base chaplain noted that Pfc Nelles had attended First Mass just hours earlier, saying, "All I can tell you at this time, is that he died at the alter (Sic) itself as he was preparing it for the second Mass... So the poor lad was ready to meet his Maker, and receive his reward for his death, though indeed most sudden, was not an unproved one... Joe was a splendid boy who did much for the Holy Mother church while here, being untiring in his efforts to lead his fellow soldiers to God."

A lesser known story is that of "Little Joe." On that fateful day, Hickam had two chaplain assistants: one for the Catholic chaplain and one for the Protestant chaplain. Private Joe "Little Joe" Jedrysik was not in the chapel when it was destroyed and Nelles killed.

As the attack began, Jedrysik was leaving breakfast on his way to the base chapel when it was bombed. Seeing that the chapel was bombed, Jedrysik manned a machine gun, where other brave Airmen lay dead, in an open field near the base flag pole. He fired on the Japanese planes before being killed by a bomb.

"Big Joe" and "Little Joe" were just doing their jobs - and then some - as they joined the 189 Army Air Force Airmen (including five civilians) killed on Hickam Field that day.

Brave Civilians

Mr. August Akina, the Hickam Field base plumber, was killed that morning (along with 3 Honolulu Firemen) in front the fire station - the present day Security Forces station.

Akina was repairing a severed water main in a 15 ft. crater created by a 500 pound bomb during the first wave of the attack. This damage knocked out the water pressure from the 500,000 gallon water tower (now known as the Freedom Tower). The firemen, John Carreira, Thomas Macy, and Harry Tuck Lee Pang, were siphoning out the water to put out fires in the big barracks building (now Pacific Air Forces Headquarters) and the flightline hangars. They were all killed when the second wave of Japanese planes arrived and attacked. All were posthumously awarded Purple Hearts by the 7th Air Force in 1947.

The first wave of enemy planes to attack Hickam Field scored direct hits on the Hawaiian Air Depot's engineering building. After the first raid, all Hawaiian Air Depot officers came in to help with firefighting, salvaging material, and other work. Approximately 100 civilian employees also reported for duty, including Mr. Phillip Ward Eldred, a purchasing clerk.

Mr. Eldred had helped create the Hawaiian Air Depot credit union and was rushing to save the bank records when he was strafed by enemy fire and killed near his office. Mr. Eldred's second job was treasurer and that credit union is what is now the Hickam Federal Credit Union at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Proudly, over the many years since the "Day That Will Live In Infamy," the U.S. and Japan have gone from bitter enemies to valued partners in the Pacific region. We keep that firmly in mind, even as we honor and commemorate the sacrifices of World War II.

(Information courtesy of the PACAF History Office and Mrs. Jessie Higa. Some information on Private Jedrysik also courtesy of the New Hampshire Union Leader)