The December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago resulted in 54 civilian casualties on O’ahu, mostly caused by friendly fire. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
(Japanese school students reciting phonetic alphabet)
First graders sing their phonetic alphabet at the Fort Gakuin Japanese Language School on Pali Highway, much like their counterparts did 75 years ago at the Hawai’i Chuo Gakuin on the corner of Nu’uanu Avenue and Vineyard Boulevard. Historian and Author, Nanette Napoleon, researched what happened at the school on December 7, 1941, following the first wave of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The bell rang at 9 o’clock for the kids to come in and the teachers and the students on the way to school had seen planes flying in the air already. The head teacher was Take Ogawa. She welcomes the students into the class in Japanese and as they came in she’s handing out song books. And then when everybody is seated, Take goes to an upright piano and they start singing the school song. In the middle of singing the school song, the hear a loud, thundering, crashing sound a couple of blocks away.”
Napoleon says the special Sunday morning class was held in the auditorium with glass windows on both sides. The students could see smoke rising in the distance, from an area where many of them lived.
“Not that long afterwards a big flash occurs right in the schoolyard. A shell hits and the shrapnel from the shell itself and all that dirt and rocks and everything goes flying and its shattering most of the windows. And then it starts hitting everybody. And everything goes flying; papers and schoolbags and people are strewn everywhere. And benches fall on the kids so Take Ogawa, the head teacher, and the other two teachers extricate the kids. And they’re under benches and crying and the tell them, ‘Go outside; go downstairs and run home.’”
As the auditorium cleared, one student remained, lying on the floor.
“Sensei Ogawa sees a girl that had not gotten up. She’s in a pool of red blood, on her back facing upwards with her hands at her side, but her eyes are closed. And she’s barely breathing. And her name was Nancy Masuko Arakaki. And she was 7 years old.”
The girl died on the way to Queen’s Hospital. Another student,
8-year-old Yoichi Sakai, had his hand nearly severed at the wrist by a piece of shrapnel. He was taken to a Japanese Hospital on Kuakini Street. Doctors there amputated Sakai’s hand and part of his forearm. And he survived. Then there was 8 year-old Jacky Yoneto Hirosaki.
“He ran to his grandmother’s saimin shop, the Cherry Blossom Restaurant. And, okay, he’s safe. And not long after that, a shell hits in the street sending shrapnel and earth and debris everywhere again. And it penetrates the saimin store and kills seven single men – many of whom were amateur boxers. It injured Yoneto’s mother; it killed his father; it killed his two younger siblings and him. So it’s kinda ironic that he survived the impact at the school and then he gets killed at the saimin store.”
Fifty-four civilians were killed or injured during the Dec. 7th attack. The explosions were later determined to have been caused by U-S anti-aircraft shells fired from some of the 66 military installations on O’ahu.
“At the time it was never reported - where the civilians were killed - the shells were not bombs. Not totally confidential but they didn’t say, ‘Friendly fire.’ Which became a political issue because the families of those that died – civilians – they were saying, that after the attack, the military personnel were all getting reparations and getting money because their loved one died and things like that; and some of the families were going to the local Marshall Law officials and saying, ‘You know, can we have some money to bury or do the cremation and they got turned down, every single one of them. It was sad, sad stories.”
Today, Napoleon stands next to a monument at the Foster Botanical Garden marking the original Chuo Gakuin site, the first Japanese Language School on Oahu established in 1899 and closed by the U.S. military in 1941.
(Japanese school students sing a song)
Seventy-five years later and one mile away from the monument, Fort Gakuin kindergarten students recite Japanese. The Hongwanji Mission School and the Honpa Hongwanji Hawai’i Betsuin re-established the language school after World War II. Teddi Yagi is the Principal.
“At one time there were over a hundred schools of our type throughout all the islands. Now there’s nine: one on Maui; the other one in Hilo; and the rest in Honolulu. So it’s dwindling. More and more the children are more interested in getting into soccer, football, baseball – more sports. (The children say), ‘Mom, I don’t want to go study two more hours after school.’ And the parents are giving into their desires to be in those areas. So each year is less children.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.