Military Intelligence Service
December 7, 1941 and Home Front
Takejiro learns of the Pearl Harbor attack from a distraught woman who asks for coffee at the YMCA cafeteria.
In disbelief, he watches the attack through binoculars from the YMCA rooftop.
He sees diving planes and billowing black smoke, as shells land along Nuuanu Avenue and totan (corrugated iron) roofs go flying by.
December 7, 1941
I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. War actually came.
See, the day the invasion, December 7, I was still at the cafeteria, working. Sunday. About nine o'clock, one haole lady came into the cafeteria asking for coffee. "Coffee, coffee, coffee." And she was really upset. And she say, "War, war, war, coffee, coffee." So we gave her a cup of coffee. She shake so much, half of the coffee spill over into the plate. So we look at the girl, say, "Eh, that lady must be cuckoo little bit." You know, we didn't know what it was.
"War, war, war. I just dropped off my husband, Pearl Harbor." Among us, we say, "Eh, this wahine [woman], I think little bit cuckoo, yeah." She went out.
First attack, we didn't know it was war. I was one of the guys who went up to the rooftop of YMCA, second floor, observing Pearl Harbor side with the binoculars. So every time a plane dived, black smoke come out, see. "Wow, today, renshu [practice] must be real terrible, terrific renshu." We didn't know it was war.
And in the meantime, about four or five shells landed along Nuuanu Avenue, you know. Totan [corrugated iron] roof, if hit, and you can hear. And one of them hit in Kukui, just off the Nuuanu Avenue, in front of a saimin stand. Several Hawaii people were there. That one [shell] landed right in front of the saimin stand. Those are the anti-aircraft guns from either Hickam or Pearl Harbor. Being an old shell, defective, yeah. They're supposed to explode in the air. But they failed to explode in the air and came down and exploded. Several hit Nuuanu Avenue. We could hear the totan roof flying. Right across from Nihon gakko, you know the Japanese[-language] school, the Nuuanu shogakko. Hit over there too, I heard.
And then about eleven o'clock - the radio announcement came, this is the war. So when the second attack came, instead of watching the sky, we ran to the basement.
And then that night, from that night, total blackout. Everybody stay out of the street after dark. And only those who volunteered to go block warding were issued permits to walk around. And block wardens, you could use a flashlight all blued out in the center, you know. Even automobile, headlight has to be blued out. Just a small light, you can see the road. Regular headlight all gone.
So I wanted to go see my friends, so I volunteered for block warding. And we had a gas mask issued. With the flashlight, I was able to walk around. By then, my house was moved to Olona Lane, above School Street. We moved from Vineyard to above School Street. So from there, I used to come down to Vineyard Avenue where my friends are.
We used to get together between Miyagi Store and Taiyo Bakery. In between, there's a room. So we'd hang around over there and talk story. And just to see them, (chuckles) I volunteered to be a block warden so I can walk around nighttime without being arrested. Name only. Only purpose was to go out and be with my friends.
Takejiro Higa's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Digital Archives, Department of Defense Still Media Depository, U.S. Army, and University of Hawaii Archives, Hawaii War Records.