Honoring our Heritage; Airman returns 65 years after attack

  • Published
  • By Major Bradley Jessmer
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
After 65 years, an American Airman returns to Oahu, Hawaii, to remember Dec 7, 1941, and share his story with his family.

Assigned at what was then Bellows Army Air Field in September 1941, Private Raymond D. Stehle helped train new recruits in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

"I was there to train new recruits," said Mr. Stehle, "but seemed to perform a lot of kitchen duty too."

For then Private Stehle, life on the island was fairly calm and an enjoyable experience.

"Just the night before, I went into town for dinner," Stehle said, "and returned to Bellows in cab with a Japanese driver. We never imagined what would come the next day."

On the morning of the attack, Private Stehle was waiting to attend Catholic Mass, but was surprised to suddenly see Japanese aircraft strafing Bellows.

"They came in on strafing runs and caught us all off guard," Stehle said. "I had to break into the armory to get weapons for everyone, then quickly train recruits how to use them. There was a decent amount of confusion and a lot of shooting."

Private Stehle also witnessed pilots trying to join the fight, only to be quickly overwhelmed by immense odds.

"I saw one pilot just get off the ground before his P-40 was destroyed," Stehle said, "then another fly straight off into the ocean, and another destroyed trying to taxi. It was a terrible sight."

We had to be really careful because there was shooting all over. Japanese aircraft were swarming all over us and boys were shooting in all directions. There was a constant fear of getting shot by our own guys."

After surviving the attack Private Stehle was manning a machine gun on coastal watch with tensions still high from the earlier attack.

"It seemed like everyone was trigger happy," Stehle said. "Folks were shooting at shadows and anything that didn't seem right. It was a very stressful time."

The very next morning after the attack, Private Stehle saw an unfamiliar object wash ashore.

"We were all on alert, watching the coast and manning machine guns," Stehle said. "Then that submarine washed ashore right in front of me. I stood watch untill it was removed."

After surviving the attack, Stehle wanted to further his duty to his country by applying for navigator school and becoming an air cadet. He served the rest of the war as a navigator aboard a B-24 bomber, flying 36 combat missions in the Pacific.

By war's end, Stehle had received several air medals and played a major role in America's victory in the Pacific.

"I am proud of what I did and coming here brings a lot back," Stehle said. "Much has changed on island from the way I last saw it, but it's good to see the quality of our military has not."