Dec. 7: An attack on one is an attack on all

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew S. Bright
  • PACAF Public Affairs
"Once out of the hall, I became aware of the booming noise coming from the direction of Pearl Harbor. I attached no special significance to the noise, since there was frequent gunnery and bombing practice in the area. I paused momentarily to watch aircraft that were circling over Pearl Harbor. As I watched, one aircraft banked sharply to the right revealing a red disk on the underside of the wing. At that moment the awful truth dawned on me; Pearl Harbor was being attacked by Japanese aircraft! It soon became evident that Pearl Harbor was not to be the only target..." - Carlos F. McCuiston, first sergeant, 19th Transport Squadron

7:55 a.m., 7 Dec., 1941: Fifty-one airplanes sit on the tarmac of Hickam Field, headquarters of the Hawaiian Air Force. A flight of 12 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers is expected to arrive soon; no one thinks twice of the sound of planes overhead that Sunday morning.

The first wave of Japanese Zero fighter planes roars over the island of Oahu on their attack run to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field and Marine Air Group 21 at Ewa. Their primary objective was to destroy battleships and carriers in port, but aircraft at Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows Field were seen as a prime means of counterattack and protection on Oahu. With these aircraft, the U.S. could wage a decisive campaign to save the men, women and children who called Oahu home.

The B-18s sitting wingtip to wingtip on the flight line are hit hard and fast. Zeroes strafe the field. A gunner is seen climbing into the nose turret of a B-18. He opens up on an attacking Zero with his .30 caliber gun. The B-18 is taken out in a hail of gunfire. Moments later, the plane catches fire and explodes. The soldier is lost.

On the parade field, several soldiers were seen setting up a machine gun. Within minutes, they were taken out by a Zero. Another group tried in vain to get the gun running -- they were killed almost immediately. "The effort of a few brave men to defend the base was doomed from the beginning as Japanese aircraft were circling overhead at such altitude as would enable the pilots to observe anything going on, on base", said McCuiston.

Zeroes and Val dive-bombers strafe and bomb Hickam's fight line and hangars, concentrating on the newly-arrived B-17s which are unarmed and low on fuel. The second wave of Japanese attack Hickam at 8:40 a.m.; by 9:45 a.m., the attack had ended. Almost half of the airplanes at Hickam Field had been badly damaged, if not destroyed. The hangars, among other non-strategic buildings: the barracks, hospital, fire station, and the chapel had all been hit.

The 3,200-man barracks, now home to Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, had been repeatedly strafed and bombed during the attack. It now lay partly ablaze. Thirty-five men were killed when the mess hall there took a direct hit.

"The first planes I saw were skimming at rooftop level over our barracks. We could clearly see the rising sun on their wings. The pilots and gunners could be seen looking around. I couldn't believe that we were being assaulted so far from Japan! An Air Force, middle-aged Sergeant came running toward us shouting for us to take cover and hollering out that he was in World War I and knew what he was talking about. He cried out, "We're at War! We're at War! ...I saw the planes strafing and bombing the base. I saw them strafing people who were on the roads. The planes would swoop down so low we could see the pilot's goggles." - Mr. William F. Rudder Sr.

Amid the chaos that morning, families rushed about seeking cover wherever they could. "I could see cars rushing off the field carrying the dependents of military personnel. It was comforting to see women and children being evacuated," said Mr. Lee E. Metcalfe.

Not everyone was able to escape. Wounded military members and their families were rushed to the base hospital where 2nd Lt. Monica Conter, an Army nurse, was on duty.

"...They were just butchered. We were trying to relieve their pain and their shock. We just went around giving that morphine in those 10 c.c. syringes, filling them up from the flask, just going from one to the other. We did try to tag them. Then they would just load them in trucks and ambulances and off they would go. They were in terrible condition and may have died.

We heard this plane. It was losing altitude, and ... The bombs were getting closer and closer ... one 500lb bomb fell on the hospital lawn... The whole hospital shook! In a split second someone yelled. "Down everybody!" and we fell wherever we were, crouching, waiting for the next minute - the next bomb to kill us all!"

With the attack on Oahu's military installations over, Hickam's reported casualties that day totaled 189 dead and more than 300 wounded.

Dec. 7, 1941 will forever hold a place of honor, fear, resentment and courage in the hearts and minds of Hawaii's citizenry and the military community here. The memories of the horrible attack that day do not belong to one group or another. They were perpetrated on America as a whole. The attack was on freedom; on justice. Men and women of all branches here, on Oahu, fought alongside to protect their homes, their families, and their country from tyranny.

Today, I ask for you to remember why we are here. Why America's military powers called Oahu home on Dec. 7, 1941, and why we continue to work toward regional stability from our place in the sun. I pray the thousands of lives lost at Pearl Harbor, Ewa, Bellows, Hickam and across Oahu that Sunday morning and in the months following never go forgotten.