Witnesses to infamy: Brevard residents recall horrors of Pearl Harbor attack

9:02 AM, Dec 7, 2012   |    comments
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(FloridaToday.com) - Katherine Hall frantically stirred her father from his Sunday morning sleep to tell him about what she was hearing on the radio.

The Hawaii native was listening to the news on the radio about 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, as the family did every morning, when in a loud, alarming voice the announcer said that Pearl Harbor was under attack.

"I had gotten up," said Hall, 89, of West Melbourne. "My mother was at church. My father never slept late, but for some reason he slept late that day."

PHOTOS: Pearl Harbor under attack

The news was startling to Hall, who was 18 at the time and worked at the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper. The surprise Japanese raid, then considered to be the most horrific attack on the United States, became known as the day that "will live in infamy." It drew the United States into World War II, and the following day the U.S. declared war on Japan.

Loren Blair, a Navy Chief Petty Officer on the USS Whitney, heard the same broadcast.

"I remember the radio announcer was scared," said Blair, 98, of Cocoa Beach. "He sounded like he thought they were going to be bombed next."

Blair, who was at home when the raid started, immediately went to his ship, a destroyer tender, the USS Whitney. He helped survivors out of the water following the attack, including one sailor who was trapped inside the hull of another ship.

The announcer was telling listeners to "take cover, Hawaii is being attacked by the Japanese." He said the Japanese rising sun flag could be seen on the planes. He advised people to tell their neighbors and for them to turn on their radio to stay abreast of what was happening.

The Japanese attacked with bombers, torpedoes and fighter planes in two waves. Eight battleships of the U.S.'s Pacific Fleet sank or were badly damaged. Hundreds of planes were destroyed on the ground.

About 42,000 sailors, soldiers and Marines were stationed on the island of Oahu that Sunday morning in 1941 when the Japanese launched the surprise air raid. The attack killed 2,388 Americans. Many more were injured.

Hall wanted her father to get up and hear the news. "I said,'Pop, the Japanese are attacking us! The Japanese are attacking us!' " Hall said. "He calmly said, 'No Katy, that's just maneuvers.' He got up and listened to the news and knew it was for real."

Her mother quickly came home from early Sunday morning Mass.

"She said the priest had stopped the Mass," Hall said. "He told everyone to go home, we were being attacked by the Japanese and to take cover."

Hall, whose last name then was Silva, had recently graduated from Roosevelt High School and was working her first job as a teletypesetter for the Advertiser, typing in stories handed to her by editors .

"I dashed outside and put our big ladder against the house and climbed to the roof," she said. "My dad yelled at me and told me 'Get down! Are you crazy?' "

Hall and her family lived in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu, about 15 miles away from the Pearl Harbor.

Even though some, like the Halls, lived some miles from Pearl Harbor, apprehension gripped everyone. Even after the attack had ended, residents kept windows blocked out and curfews were enforced by police. People feared that other parts of Hawaii would be attacked. "We thought the Japanese were going to come back," Hall said. "We were really scared."

Hall said the Advertiser cut down on the number of printed pages because of fears it might run out of newsprint before receiving new shipments. A kitchen was set up at the newspaper to cook for the employees, and she helped out. Like many other residents, Hall volunteered. She took a Red Cross nurse's aid course and worked part time for the organization.

Hall later found out that twin brothers she had recently met were both killed aboard their ship during the attack.

"When I think back, it was horrible," she said.

Military and civilians came into Hawaii following the attack to work for the military. At the suggestion of a reporter who told her the Navy needed new employees in various positions, Hall left the newspaper to work as a teletype setter for the Navy.

Hall said the initial shock of the attack turned to anger. People rallied together and no longer seemed divided about the United States' involvement in World War II.

People would sing "Remember Pearl Harbor" at gatherings, Hall said as she sang, "Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we go to meet the foe; Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we did the Alamo."

R. Norman Moody, Florida Today

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