As the nation remembers the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, two museum docents who were in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941 share their memories of that day.
This is Laura Young. She has been a volunteer at the museum for 25 years—first as a cashier at the Beretania campus café, and then as a front desk attendant at Spalding House. At 92, she can still recall the day when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
“I was a teenager. It was Sunday morning, and we lived in Kaimukī, where there’s Fort Ruger. Every so often we could hear guns or whatever going on when they practiced, so I said, ‘Oh well, they’re at it again.’ But, later on when we got up we said, ‘Planes flying over? What’s going on?’ It wasn’t until later on in the day that we discovered what was happening—actually nobody knew what was going on at that time. We heard from people who were bombed down here [in Makiki], pretty close. It didn’t really affect us, but we had to wear our gas masks and all that stuff. We couldn’t go out at night.”
You can find Laura dutifully attending the Spalding House front desk every Tuesday, from 10am-1pm.
Docent Nancy Whitman was a little girl living near Punahou in 1941. This is her December 7 story, which she was reminded of as she led a tour through Yun-Fei Ji: The Intimate Universe in October.
“That Sunday morning I remember I was playing with my toys. People were huddling around the radio for what they call the ‘call up.’ They called up different people to come to work. All day that radio was calling up people. Then I remember I went outside because we could see the blackness in the sky, from when they were shooting and firing, people were saying they weren’t sure whether those are American flames, or what the shooting was all about. Then I heard them say that little restaurant at King and McCully was on fire, and the school I went to, Lunalillo, that was also on fire. They were using it as a hospital.
“When I was researching for the Yun-Fei Ji tour, I noticed that [Yun-Fei Ji] said when he was seven he went to live with his grandmother in the country. They didn’t have electricity, so they sat outside and talked story. When I read that I thought that’s exactly how it was when the war broke out. I can see why he remembered all the things that he did—all these ghost stories come from that period of time. I remember something just about as ghastly. Everything was blacked out in the evening of Dec. 7, so we were all outside for quite a while. People in the neighborhood, my father’s friend, and my father who worked at Pearl Harbor as a truck driver, they came and told us stories of that day. I was little, around eight or nine, and they were describing this cavalcade of trucks loaded with bodies from Pearl Harbor all the way to Tripler Hospital. I was imagining what it would be like, and one of them said, ‘Oh, he really got the’—I won’t repeat what he said—’knocked out of him.’ He had to take him to the crematorium, and he said the bodies moved when they hit the fire, and he thought they were coming back to life, so he ran out of there. And my uncle was a diver; he had to go down and retrieve the bodies. What an impression that made. I can see why Yun-Fei Ji remembered all those ghastly ghost stories.”
Nancy Whitman leads tours year-round. See the full tour schedule here.