"a date that will live in infamy" -- and she was there
70 years ago today, our mother, Lavinia Cresap, was an eyewitness to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Here is her account, written that night and in the days afterward. At the bottom is a reference to her in an Army officer's diary. Six months after the attack, she married our father (he is mentioned in her entry on the 14th). She was an amazing woman.
Honolulu, T.H. - Dec. 7th, 1941
“It couldn’t happen here!” - did we say that?
Here in the room we are sleeping under desks and tables of every description with a blanket beneath us and just coats and sweaters over us. It is about four o’clock and all the children are finally sleeping but most of the women are awake and talking and joking. At last all the crying has stopped. I think that has been the most trying thing this night – and yet you just can’t spank them at a time like this, and for the most part the children have been very good.
It is still hard to believe what has happened and realize that this is only the beginning. I find it so hard to comprehend. Such a complete surprise!
This morning we were awakened by planes flying over the houses, very low, and guns popping and bombs falling. It was eight o’clock and all were still in bed taking advantage of Sunday morning. Everyone thought it was a practice of some sort. We rushed out of the house in robes to watch the proceedings, watch the bombs falling. I kept saying to Carl - “I didn’t know there was a practice bombing field on the other side of Wheeler!” Then the planes flying over our houses started machine gunning the houses and the bullets dug into the ground and walls around us. Only Col. McNair rushed out of his house across the street completely outfitted shouting, “It’s the Japanese – can’t you see the rising suns on the planes!” And we thought “Oh, it couldn’t be!” Carl dressed immediately and dashed up to the headquarters. Two minutes later he dashed back, “It is the real thing! Guess I won’t be back for lunch.” He packed a few things and was off again.
No sooner had he left, when around came the messengers telling us to take a warm coat and a blanket and go immediately to the Saliport of the 21st. (Sorry to interrupt - but here at the window I see a group of Army trucks going past - dark, not even the blackout lights on. Just heard that Shafter had been bombed too and that 250 were injured. Wonder how Joel is – OD at the Crater!)
After we assembled in the Saliport we went into the kitchen and started to butter bread and make hot water for tea and coffee. Most of the people had had no breakfast and the children were hungry. All the electricity had been turned off except one small electric burner. We hunted around and found the sugar and cream. At the same time we tried to keep the store open so that the soldiers could come in and buy cokes and cigs. From the windows we could look out into the quadrangle and watch the companies line up. Once there was another attack, but by that time the anti-aircraft guns were operating and no damage was done.
After about an hour and a half, we were told that we could go back to the houses and pick up a few other things so Mary Alice and I dashed back and put what we thought we would need into a large laundry bag and went back to the Saliport. By that time the order had come out that we could return to our houses for the night. All afternoon we had conflicting reports – “Go back to your houses and await further orders.” - “Go to the Saliport.” - Return to your houses, return to the Saliport. We didn’t know just what to do! We finally decided to pack our small bags and leave them at the 21st and then await further orders at the house - and it was a good idea. About six o’clock the orders came around to go to the 21st. When we arrived this time, we were told to await convoy to be taken into the city. It was almost dark and not a light was on anywhere. It was cold and the women with children were having a very difficult time. MA and I adopted two small boys for their mothers - they kept us busy. It seemed ages before the busses arrived to convoy us - and in that time we heard a million rumors. We were going to be taken immediately to transports and shipped home! Imagine such a thing going around! But everyone was on edge.
The buses finally arrived and then started the longest and most harrowing ride I have ever had. (It rivals the one I had with Dad that stormy night from Baguio.) We were just packed in with all our belongings – the bus driver was an oriental and many were sure that he would wreck us. It was still raining - cold. The bus seemed to crawl along - couldn’t travel over five miles an hour - children screamed all the way – as we passed Pearl Harbor we could see the fires burning – the same at Hickam Field. None of us had any idea just how much damage had been done. It was almost eleven o’clock when we arrived here at the school, yet it was all locked up. No orders seemed to have been received that we were coming and we had to find the janitor to get into the rooms. Everything was confused. But at least, we were not on transports. The women with small children were most in need of help and care, and we tried to settled them first of all.
Now, as I say, everything is quiet except for the buzz of the mosquitoes – they are frightful tonight, we feel that we are being eaten alive. But soon it will be morning.
Tried to get back into the mood of the night of the 7th, but too much has happened since then, and now, here we are as settled as can be in town with Alison Coulter and so I will try to retrace my steps.
I neglected to tell of our preparations at the house before we left Schofield the day we left. Mary Alice and I packed many things and piled other things on the beds so that they would be easy to pick up in the event of a hasty departure. And isn’t it a good thing. If we should have a chance to get back to Schofield, we would just have time to take those few things. Though now as I write the possibility of going back every seems remote. We haven’t heard a word from Carl since he left Sunday, but have heard that there were no casualties in the 21st. Joel came in for just a minute last night and said that all was well at Shafter and that the casualties were very slight. However, we have no way of knowing what actually happened at Pearl Harbor or Hickam Field. We did learn all sorts of things (probably some of them rumors, but some actualities) that had been done from the inside to aid the Japanese in their bombings here.
We were amazed to find out that at Eva Plantation, the cane fields had been planted in a perfect arrow pointing toward Hickam and Pearl Harbor to direct the planes! To find out that right in Wahiawa one of the most prominent business men, owner of Castner’s Store, had a powerful radio set in his basement and was caught “red-handed” sending directing messages to the planes. Another man (German) prop. Of the beer garden on the post was in the hills signaling messages to the planes.
So much of this attack was prepared from the inside - makes me think again and again of Leland Stowe’s reports in “No Other Road to Freedom.”
Yesterday morning we were up early - at daybreak, and how good it was to see the light. It was still dreary and storming, but the mosquitoes were gone. These children are just a mass of welts. The first thing to think about was breakfast - none of us have eaten since noon yesterday and some not since breakfast. The Principal of the school had arrived and during the night the Army had brought food in – bread, butter and fruit. So we made coffee and cocoa and served breakfast – first to the children and then to the adults. Then to start planning what to do during the day. We learned that we were to contact anyone in town where we thought we might stay for a couple of days while plans were being formulated as to what to do next. I had tried to contact Pauline the day before from Schofield to let her know that we were safe and not to worry and to find out how they were; none but official calls were being put through though. I called her at once and found that Joel and Alison had been trying to get us and wanted us very much to stay with them – Alison was alone because Joel was out on the post the whole while. So I called her and she had not yet left to go to work at Shafter (the offices were open) and we arranged to out there from Pauline's. At the same time other people were arranging to stay with friends and those who knew soon were having arrangements made for them. As it happened the Webers went to the Majers, who had called in and said that they had room for evacuees. So at last I met the Majers. We were taken to Pauline's and there visited the rest of the day – restless because we had had so little sleep and because there seemed so much to do, yet no knowing just what. Russell was terribly busy working on Civilian Defenses – he kept us informed about what had been going on. We heard that parachuters had landed and that all but two had been killed. There were no further raids and everyone was expecting another at any minute – but now were prepared for anything.
About five o’clock Joel called and came over and got us - and here we are. We got dinner in the dark and ate it in the dark. Complete blackout was ordered and we didn’t have time to do the house, but did fix up the bedroom We had lots of fun eating and wondering just what we would get when we took a bite.
Then this morning when we got up we had already decided that we couldn’t just sit quietly and Alison was going off to the office to work. We thought that we might go and send messages to our families to let them know that all was well and then go to the hospital and see what we could do. They were calling desperately for blood too.
We fixed up the house and then about noon went downtown. First of all we went to the Cable office – it was crowded, but we managed to get in and send a message, being told at the time that it might not go out for a week and perhaps it might not go out at all. From the cable office we went to Queen’s Hospital and rolled bandages and wondered what to do next. At three MA went on home and I had to stay and give a blood test. At the hospital the hall was lined up with people giving blood and many of them were orientals. We lined the hall and waited until they called our numbers then went upstairs to the hospital room. The doctors were terribly busy – this blood they were just taking for the plasma for transfusions, though at the same time they were typing it so that it would be on record. We went into a long corridor and into a small room where there were three cots laid out and here they tested us and took what they needed. It was about four o’clock when I was through and just as I went down stairs and started out of the building an air raid signal sounded and so none of us could leave. I worried about getting home, but no sense in doing that – we just had to wait for the all clear signal. At that time the President’s speech was being broadcast so we turned on the radio to listen. Shortly after he started to speak, his wave was cut in on by some foreign short wave and we couldn’t hear a word! Things like that we have read about in Europe!
When the all clear was sounded I dashed out to catch the nearest bus going up the Manda Valley. When I reached the corner another air raid sounded, but there was nothing to do but walk until the bus came along. I joined another girl – also walking toward the valley – and together we tore along until someone came by and offered us a ride as far as Punaho School. There we thumbed a ride on a cement truck up the valley to the corner of our block and from there we ran. She had about two more blocks to go than I. At home everything was fine. And the all clear sounded just as I walked in the front door. Again it was fun! At the table Alison told us that at Shafter they were desperately in need of people to work teletype machines. I thought that I could pick it up easily since I had operated one for practice at business school. So we planned to go to Shafter the next morning and see if we could help
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We have all been terribly busy. All day long we have been working at Shafter and it has been nerve wracking business. They do need people. When we went down they immediately put us into the signal room and showed us what to do. The only thing that was a little difficult to get used to was the form used in taking down the message. The other things were easy – just a case of getting used to the machines. All of the men were very nice. They were completely worn out – I have never seen so many that have worked on and on with little or no sleep – no time to change clothes – no time to shave. They were tickled to death to have the relief. There were only four of us and they were looking for 12. I thought of the work I had been doing at Wheeler and decided to ask for a transfer to this office – anyone can do typing and I thought that if I could work in here I could really help. At noon I called Wheeler (the first time that I had been able to reach them – I had tried Monday and Tuesday with no luck) and told them about the situation. But no luck – they said they needed people too and to come out the next day if I could find a way. That being out – I went back to work the rest of the afternoon and planned on hitch-hiking out the next morning.
We have had no more attacks and it looks very much as though they were through for a little while although there is really no way of telling that.
Tonight we have talked about all the possibilities there are – and Alison says that she will be alone so that I could stay here for just a little while until I got settled in town. I thought that I would ask for another transfer depending upon what kind of work they gave me to do at Wheeler. In the paper tonight I learned that transportation would be provided to people going out to Wheeler tomorrow and so I am off and will stay there tomorrow night and try to contact Carl for MA and drive in Saturday again.
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Truthfully, I don’t feel much like writing, but perhaps once that I begin things will come to me. This account has been neglected for a long time.
We are back home at Schofield. It has been a beautiful day and very very quiet.
The most part we have spent packing and visiting and talking endlessly about what is apt to happen and how to prepare for anything. MA and I have packed up all her things in trunks and I have put my non-essentials into my trunk. We had all the furniture piled up in the front room, but have decided to put it around again (just the furniture) so that it may easily be gathered together yet we can live in it. The men came around this morning and blacked out the middle room and the bathroom and gave us a blue globe to use so that at least we can live in a semblance of light at night – it gets dark so early now.
At noon we went out for lunch – it much the simple thing to do. Mary Alice came out from town yesterday and we talked all hours of the night – she was so undecided as to what to do – whether to work in town or try to get a job out here. It is really better to stay here and now that that is decided we are both happier even though I do have to move into town. Yesterday, they told me at Wheeler that the office was moving to town with headquarters at Shafter and that I would have to do – if I had a place to stay. I did, so off I go, we go in Monday morning. That is the reason that I got today off – to get some of my things into town. This afternoon I took the car and took my suitcase to Alison’s. had lunch with her at Shafter and told her the new set-up. Hope it will work out for a little while. Am worried about staying with them as I know that Joel will be home most of the time and I hate to disrupt their household – however, I hope to find a place in town and get located before long. Now that MA is safe and happy here, I think it will be alright.
But enough of all this. I ought to be describing some of the things that are happening here. Everything is quiet – in front of all of the houses are two or three bomb shelters – trenches dug and covered so that in case of attack we could easily go out and get into one of them. All are camouflaged with grass and with plants of all descriptions.
All afternoon, since I got back from town, we have been going around visiting the other people who returned to their homes. All of the 21st is back, the 9th and the Engineers too, I think. We have heard more and more rumors – tales of things that had happened these past days. Mary Alice has seen Carl and he has gone out again. This morning we packed his foot locker to send out to him – clothes, etc. We think of how lucky we are that all the people that we know are safe and uninjured. That day at the hospital I met so many women who had been at Pearl Harbor and seen the horrible things that happened there. Some from Hickam. Many of them didn’t know even then what had happened to the people they knew.
MA and Margaret Easly and Sara have decided to get together at night in one house so that none of them will be alone. I rather dread going into town – not afraid of anything there, but the idea of leaving MA here. Tonight I had a letter from Jack from New York. It was written last Saturday night – so I still don’t know where he is in the Army, but in it he is, I am sure.
My second day in town. The office is set up right across from the Hawaiian Ordinance Dept., and the buildings aren’t finished yet. We are not busy and that is the reason that I am taking time to type all this out. Yesterday morning I thought I would go mad waiting to come into town, but we got here by noon and worked all afternoon. Called Alison and we went home together – J too -- and got dinner then talked to Alice for a little while and after playing some records – to bed.
This day has been very quiet so far – hope that we will be busy soon. Have found of a place to rent and have my fingers crossed on it, and that Storey will come in and share it with me. – Well, enough how.
“Wheeler Field, Oahu, Dec 7.
"Nice going on the part of our secretary, Miss Cresap. She called, Sunday, soon after the attack, asking if she could help. With spirit like that on the part of the women, our thumbs are up and our chins out-thrust...” The Honolulu Star Bulletin reprinted a diary kept by Corporal Franklin Hibel, US Army Oahu.