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HONOLULU, Hi. (WDVM) — Two young Japanese Americans will never forget December 7th, 1941, when hundreds of Japanese warplanes flew low over their homes on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands.
The first wave of planes took off the decks of their aircraft carriers at dawn 230 miles west-northwest of the “Blowhole,” the most prominent rock formation on the north end of Oahu where Pearl Harbor is located in Honolulu.
More than 200 Japanese dive bombers and torpedo bombers escorted by fighters flew over the rock formation and the mist-covered mountain range behind the “Blowhole” before heading south at treetop level to Pearl Harbor.
“They flew right over my house,” said 97-year-old Charles Moriyama who lived in Wahiawa, ten miles north of Pearl Harbor.
“We could see the pilots and we could see the red Rising Sun on the fuselage of their planes… and we knew that we were being attacked by Japan,” said Moriyama, who was only 16 years old at the time.
Ralph Matsumoto, a 20-year-old student at the University of Hawaii, was home for the weekend, also saw the strike force fly over his house in Mililani Town, about five miles north of Pearl Harbor.
“We thought at first it was a maneuver of some kind,” said Matsumoto, who — like Moriyama — saw Red Rising Suns on the planes and Japanese pilots in the cockpits.
Both young Japanese-Americans were too far from Pearl Harbor to see what was going on, but they could hear what sounded like thunder bombs rained down on Battleship Row and exploded.
The Japanese surprise attack began at 7:50 on a Sunday morning, but it took crews on American warships in the harbor a while to get their anti-aircraft guns into action.
Four shipyard workers headed to Pearl Harbor were killed when naval gunfire ripped through their car like swiss cheese. The driver is seen in the photo below, slumped over the steering wheel, dead.
Some of the five-inch shells fell in downtown Honolulu about eight miles east of Pearl Harbor with devastating effect. Jack-In-The-Box, a fast-food restaurant, now stands at this street corner in Honolulu.
A top-secret board of inquiry determined that 49 of the 68 civilians casualties were due to U.S. naval gunfire, not Japanese bombs or machinegun bullets.
The sky over Honolulu was dotted with puffs of “flak” from jittery gun crews who fired thousands of rounds of high-explosive shells into Honolulu hours after the Japanese strike force returned to their carriers and headed back to Japan; convinced that it had dealt a death blow to the American fleet.
Ralph Matsumoto told me some shells fell down the street from a pool hall where he was headed on December 7th.
“One exploded a couple blocks away,” said Matumoto, who is now 100 years old. “It scared the hell out of us when it exploded.
Ralph ran home where his father was listening to KGU, the oldest radio station in Hawaii.
“This is KGU in Honolulu,” said a young reporter who was broadcasting from the top of the Advertiser Publishing Building.
“We cannot estimate just how much damage has been done, but one of the bombs dropped within 50 feet of the KGU tower,” said the reporter.
The building has changed owners since 1941, and so has the neighborhood, The building is now owned by the Hawaiian Dredging and Construction Company, the island’s largest contractor. Eric Hashizume, one of the vice presidents at HDCC, escorted me to the top of the building where I was able to stand where the reporter stood 80 years ago and described what he saw eight miles away at Pearl Harbor.
The roof is now crowded with mechanical equipment, including huge air conditioning units. A ten story parking garage blocks the view the KGU reporter had on that fateful day, but his words still send a chill up my spine.
“It is no joke,” he said as he telephoned a report to NBC News in New York City via the Trans-Pacific telephone cable, “It is a real war.”