|December 7, 1941|
|Written by George Suyeoka|
|Thursday, 16 October 2008 16:30|
December 7, 1941
It is very early in the morning. I look out and it is still night. 4 a.m. I usually don’t get up until 6:30 or 7 a.m. I’m still sleepy, but I quickly snap to and brush my teeth. There is always a not unpleasant rush of tightness or adrenaline just under my breastbone when I anticipate doing or going to an event. I have this feeling of excitement this morning as I get dressed and get my bicycle out.
My brother, sister and mother are still asleep. It is cool out and it promises to be a great warm day. I am on my way to deliver over 400 Japanese language newspapers. But first I make a detour to my best buddy Hide’s home about a mile away. Quietly I knock on the door and whisper his name. But he is up already and he is preparing haupia, a coconut juice pudding.‘“ey Mike, going be nice day, huh? You going like this haupia”, Hide greets me. And I do. At 15 years of age I am voracious, and anything sweet tastes great.
“ey, Hide where you learn to make this haupia? I gotta learn to make it.” I said.
It is still before daybreak and we are on our way. This is a one day a week paper route I had on Sunday and generous Hide almost always helped me with the rolling of the paper and delivery. The family-owned printing shop was located on the first street below the top of Punchbowl, a small volcanic hill overlooking all of downtown Honolulu. This now national cemetery was an occasional climbing event for Hide and me. It was not difficult to climb, but it was steep enough for a bicycle to negotiate, so we usually rode in from the gradually sloping mountain side road. The owner of the paper had arrived from Japan with his wife and two teenage daughters less than a year ago and started this four page Japanese language paper which mostly contained news from the other two Japanese newspapers, the daily Hochi and Nippujiji.Upon arrival, he greeted us cordially, and Hide and I immediately began rolling the papers to the size of a pencil in thickness, which made it easy to fling it onto the veranda or doorway of a house. Hide and I were usually quite animated in our conversation on these occasions and were trying to decide the day’s events. My impression of the owner was that he and his family were always cordial, almost friendly, and I thought he was very generous, paying me all of three dollars for the delivery.
Dawn was breaking and it was quite light by now. Hide said “I see you later”, and started his run. I started to gradually zigzag down the hill with my overloaded bike, tossing a paper here and there, when I became aware of anti-aircraft gun activity. I thought this was unusual so early and on a Sunday. Then I was really surprised at the black smoke bursts created by the exploding shells in the sky.
George Suyeoka today, with his sculpture of the samurai warrior
I had always been a fan of the military, especially the aircraft, so whenever the U.S. Army was target practicing makai (ocean side) of Honolulu, I would stop to admire the white puffs of the exploding practice shells in proximity to the target pulled by an aircraft.
When I saw several B-l7d’s fly over Honolulu, accompanied by guardian P-40s, and saw that these magnificent bombers were followed by anti aircraft puffs, I experienced that itchy excitement in the pit of by chest. I felt a rising sense of excitement and apprehension. I looked toward Pearl Harbor and saw a heavy pall of black smoke rising and fading toward the sea. And I swear I thought I saw silver specks of aircraft diving in and out of the rising smoke. It must have been around 8 a.m. I could hear the fire engine, police and ambulance sirens blaring away. They appeared to be converging on Pearl Harbor.
I finally finished my appointed rounds, and met Hide on Kapiolani Boulevard behind McKinley High School. I don’t remember us being afraid but rather excited. Staid, peaceful and paradisiacal Hawaii disappeared and the visions of Hawaii becoming the power center and staging point in the Pacific became obvious.
Honolulu was stirring rapidly. Hide and I wanted to “investigate”, but had no concept of what to do except “defend” Hawaii with our “extensive“ ROTC training of three months. Of course like many teen age boys in Hawaii, we had some experience with BB guns. At this point, the shells were still occasionally falling in various parts of Honolulu. We decided return to our homes and meet later.
I hurried home to face a distraught and furious mom who imagined me being hurt. Our one and only Philco was blaring away with news of “enemy attack by a foreign power”, and urgent requests for all armed forces, police, and emergency personnel to return to their bases. My step brother Rich was just back on a short furlough and was quite undecided on when and how to get back to Schofield Barracks. Rich and his father disagreed on whether he should report to duty immediately.
Home to me in Kakaako was a Japanese ghetto in the best sense of the word. These Japanese communities abounded all over Hawaii, as did the Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Portuguese, and other ethnic communities.
All the young children and teens were excited and dashed about, home to home, asking about schools and whizzing shells. My brother Joe and I climbed up the mango tree and onto the neighbors corrugated roof, along with other teens and tried spot the Japanese planes. A huge cloud of black smoke rose over the Pearl Harbor-Hickam Field area and drifted to the sea. It’s hard to know if we saw specks of light flashing down and up over the rising smoke. Our parents were screaming at us to come down because the shells were still occasionally scraping the sky over Honolulu.
The sequence of the day’s events is blurred, but I remember making a few rounds to the grocers to stock up. And all available buckets and pots were filled with water. Schools were declared closed, all coastal areas, especially harbors and bays were taboo, blackouts were declared and travel restricted. There were fearful talks of imminent invasions and what we should do, especially since Kakaako was a central fishing area, with Kewalo basin and its docked sampans not a quarter mile away.
Night came, a quick supper and the checking of all doors and windows for light leakage. Later, a fearful knocking on the door. “Who is it?” some one answered.
There were rumors galore: spies caught, mysterious blinking lights in the hills, invading boats; another air attack imminent, water supply poisoned all Japanese to be rounded up and deported or sent to the mainland.
To most of the fishermen in boats who had been out to sea since early morning, it was a nightmare. Since we lived close to Kewalo Basin and Alamoana Park, we heard the rat-tat-tat of machines going off all night long. The late boats came in after the waterfront was secured by the Army and met a hail of machine gun fire as they attempted to enter the harbor. Some larger sampans had radio but hardly any had any communication radios. Many of them had no knowledge of the attack. I don’t have any record of deaths, casualties, or sunken boats but that night and a few succeeding nights heard many bursts of gunfire.
There were some casualties among the Japanese Americans in succeeding days when irate citizens attacked them. The horror of the Japanese attack was kept quiet for a while, but the tremendous death and damage became known soon after and horrified us.
Despite my mother’s warning, I snuck out the following day and visited Hide and together we visited our closed high school for damage. There was a gaping hole in the pavement near our school, and if the shell had landed ten feet closer, the statue of President McKinley would have been demolished.
That day, I realized that my world had changed forever.
George Suyeoka was drafted into the Military Intelligence Service, based on his Japanese language skills. He served in Tokyo, Hokkaido and Ishikawa. Afterwards he decided to pursue an art career and came to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked as a commercial artist for major corporations and advertising agencies, and as a fine artist. He is prolific illustrator of children's books, and of several books on Japanese folk tales. His latest work is a series of bronze drinking fountains with animal motifs in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
The author with one his sculptures, a political satire.
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