Remembering Pearl Harbor: Jean Yanagihara

— Submitted by UH alumna Jean Tokushige Yanagihara (UH Mānoa, BS, 1956)

On the bright Sunday Morning, December 7, 1941, as members of my family sat on the floor at the round dining table to enjoy breakfast before church service at ‘Aiea Hongwanji Temple, I was assigned to clean everyone’s shoes to put on for Sunday service.

I saw an airplane with the Japanese Hinotama being shot at from the ships docked below ‘Aiea at Pearl Harbor, so I yelled at the family still dining inside the house, “Japanese planes are coming and are being shot at!!!” We could see black smoke from Pearl Harbor and in the skies over Pearl Harbor.

My dad hurriedly ordered us all to round up food and clothing and to run up Pilikoa Street for safety, towards ‘Aiea Heights. The skies over Pearl Harbor were turning dark, from gun powder of Japanese planes and American planes that were beginning to be shot at.

Neighbors were all helping each other to carry food and water up the hill on ‘Aiea Heights.  Some very generous Filipino families provided us with food and water to sustain our family on that morning.  Many of the men had the task of supplying the people and therefore made multiple trips up and down the hills in Aiea!!!!  We all survived the attack that morning with many ships going down and sinking in the battle between enemy airplanes and American ships being bombed.

We slept on the hills in ‘Aiea overnight, with men going up and down and watching what the battle had wrought. 

The following morning, we were still not aware of the devastation of Pearl Harbor and the great loss of lives of military men and officers from Sunday morning’s attack on Pearl Harbor, with Ships sinking before our eyes. Black smoke.

Some medical professionals who had answered the “call” for HELP at Pearl Harbor were unable to get their lives together after witnessing such horror of so many lives being lost. They tried with all their might to erase the pain and suffering and damages but eventually took their lives to be able to erase it from their minds.

One story remains that a Japanese pilot in his plane was shot down where it is presently at ‘Aiea Ball Park. A bomb was dug out of our yard between Mr. Chaves’ home and our house after the war. In a darkened home due to “rules of air raid,” our family stood in the middle bedroom, when bullets came through the overhead roof to barely miss my eldest sister’s shoulder.

Those bullets were kept for a long time for remembrance in a jar. We remember the bomb shelter every home had built in the backyard and supplied with bottles of water. Remember those gas masks with straps that we had to carry daily hanging on our shoulders? Long lines to purchase food at markets?

Pearl Harbor was no longer a source of food for our community. It became a reminder that “at dawn we slept” and the loss of many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lives. AND, the beginning go World War TWO.

*Submission has been slightly edited for clarity purposes

University of Hawai‘i Alumni