Second World War: Pearl Harbor Survivors Evacuate

Civilian Pearl Harbor survivors shipped to San Fransisco at the advent of U.S. involvement in the Second World War.

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I am one of the Pearl Harbor survivors who lived there at the time of the bombing. This is a short version of my experiences that day, December 7,1941, that led to the U.S. entry into the Second World War.

My husband was attached to a mine layer, the USS Sicard that laid mines in the waters around the islands. He was home two or three days a week.

Tensions had been growing with Japan, but no one suspected what was about to happen so soon. On Saturday, December 6, 1941, we went with our Portuguese neighbors, the Camaras, to spend the weekend in their beach home across Oahu and close to the Kaneoke Naval Air Station. That evening we were entertained by Hawaiian guitar players, who gave us beautiful Hawaiian music that lasted until 1 a.m.

Of course our 7-month-old baby did not sleep late the next morning. While I fed the baby, my husband and Bill Camara turned the radio on. It was so quiet there on that lovely beach. The radio suddenly interrupted the program with an urgent message for all civilian and military personnel to return to their stations immediately. "We are under a sporadic air attack," was being repeated and repeated, and they were saying, "Folks, this is not a joke, but the real thing." The fellows thought it was no doubt a drill and turned the radio off. Just then a Japanese plane, with the rising sun under its wing, flew over us towards the Kaneoke Air Station.

That convinced us it was no joke, so we hurriedly loaded up and headed back to Honolulu. Because the men were not in uniform, we were detained for identification as we crossed the Pali. From there we could see the whole of Pearl Harbor, and our hearts sank! As we drove on, we saw a body being carried from a house that had been strafed, as well as a car that had been hit with the bodies still in it.

It was pandemonium on Dillingham Boulevard, the main street that we lived off of, and we had to run the last two blocks to get to our house. Neither I or my husband could ever remember who carried the suitcase and who carried the baby. Neighbors yelled at us as we ran, with mostly true reports of ships sunk, etc.

No one knew for a while about the terrible devastation and the loss of over 2,000 men. The Japanese did not know how badly they had crippled us. They could have taken the island.

My husband, Iden, quickly got into uniform and went down the street. He was picked up by a policeman and taken to his ship, which was in overhaul, but not hit. I did not see him until Thursday; a detachment from the ship had located all the families on Tuesday.

Martial law was declared immediately, with complete blackout.

Not even a pinpoint of light could show. Soon we could get heavy black paper to blacken out at least one room. No unauthorized person was allowed out on the street after dark. It was scary to hear footsteps outside a window in your yard - and even hear rifle fire, which we hoped was practice.

It was over a week before we could get any messages to families on the mainland. My folks read in the newspaper that the baby and I were missing. I got word to them that we were alive! Rumors ran wild. Our water had been poisoned! It was only a rumor.

Schools were closed and became Red Cross Centers to make bandages and provide emergency help. Blood was badly needed. All we heard on the radio were instructions for the people and any war news they could tell us.

Anytime unidentified aircraft approached the island an air-raid siren went off. The shelters in our area were huge cement tubes behind our building. We had to carry gas masks at all times and had an emergency kit ready in case of another attack.

I received orders to be evacuated by December 31. That was canceled, and one evening in mid-March 1942, sheets of paper were handed out at every door for 2,000 military dependents to be at Honolulu Harbor by 8 the next morning. My baby and I were put on the Aquatania, a British first-class liner that had been converted to a troop ship to carry troops between San Francisco and Australia. We were in a convoy with U.S. destroyers as escorts until we reached safe waters. We had one submarine scare and many lifeboat drills. The Church of England held services on Sunday and we had tea on deck every day at 4 p.m.

Everyone was on deck as we sailed into San Francisco Bay. With heavy hearts, we were happy to be back in the United States. We were also sad to have left loved ones, not knowing if we would ever see them again.

Pearle M. Nash
Wichita, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.