F Company, 442nd RCT
December 7, 1941
On Sunday, the Oba family is having hotcakes for breakfast. They hear noises but attribute it to fireworks or military exercises. Their house shakes, sending Ronald out the door to investigate.
He heads towards billowing black smoke. From the water’s edge, he witnesses the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
At first he is angry, then ashamed. As the authorities begin taking away Japanese community members, he is apprehensive.
I was a senior at Iolani School, and, on December 5th, Friday, our history teacher, Mr. Schwartz, told his class, “Before the weekend is over, Japan and America will be at war.”
Well, I was barely seventeen at the time, so I didn’t pay much attention. I was more interested going swimming and fishing. December 7th, Sunday morning, about 7:50 — as I said, Sunday is a treat for us, we were having hotcakes that morning, and we were very eager to swallow all our hotcakes.
And all of a sudden, there was a bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. I said, ah, the crazy teenagers playing firecrackers. But it went from here to there. It was too fast. They must be pulling the firecrackers behind the car, I said, on Moanalua Road.
Then, before, while we’re thinking about it, then we heard boom, boom, boom. We said, “Ah, the army and navy is having a military exercise.” Like they’d be having all the time. We used to watch the airplane pulling the pylon and then the fighter planes would be shooting at it or from down below, anti-aircraft would be shooting blanks. But they used to make smoke and bang, bang, see. But we were saying they must be exercising.
All of a sudden, one boom, it shook our whole house. You know our plantation homes are single wall, yeah. Not built solid like this. Ho, the whole house shook, just like earthquake. In those days, we had earthquakes in Oahu. Did you know that? There were a lot of earthquakes. And we knew whenever we had an earthquake because the ground would shake and we couldn’t stand up straight. But anyway, it shook our house. I said, “Wow, something must be wrong.”
I jumped out of my chair, I ran down Kauhale Street, past Kaya Soda Works, went through the rice fields, jumped over the train tracks and I went all the way to the water’s edge. And I said, “Wow,” because I was heading for the smoke.
The black smoke was billowing up. Then pretty soon I saw all of the flames coming up. I said, “Wow, what an accident on the Arizona, chee, it’s burning. Then before I know it, the California, or the other battleships, started to burn. I said, “Wow, the sad,” there’s a chain reaction, domino effect. So the other battleship is burning.
While I was looking at it, I heard the drone of airplanes. I look up, wow, there’s a lot of planes over skies. Then I saw them dive-bombing, hitting the destroyers and cruisers that were only several hundred yards away from shore. What I was thinking was, “Wow, what’s all this happening?”
Then I looked toward the Battleship Row, then I saw a dive-bomber from Waikiki and come low and drop a torpedo. I said, “Hey, that was a torpedo, it splashed on the water.” And before you know, I saw it explode. And the plane, instead of going up and getting hit by anti-aircraft — already the sailors had manned, see — it turned around and hugged the water surface, only a few hundred feet from it and it came right toward me. And I was looking and looking.
As I was looking up, the pilot was looking down at me and he had a canvas type of helmet and great big goggles. He was looking down at me, I was looking up and he went by, I said, “What was all that?”
Then I said, “Chee, there was a red insignia on the wings. It must be a Japanese plane.” I said, “It cannot be, it’s too far. Japan cannot be sending a plane all the way across,” not realizing that the flattops were two hundred miles beyond Kahuku. I said, “Wow.” Then I realized.
I saw all the other Zeroes dive-bombing. I said, “How dare they come and attack Pearl Harbor, our homeland, and killing our military, our sailors and whatnot.” Oh, I was angry, I said, “The nerve of these guys. They’re our ancestors come and attack us like that.”
While I was watching, getting angrier, a truckload of marines came and they yelled at me to go home. I got up on the train track and started to walk, then I saw two Zeroes on blaze aflame, and one landed by Pearl Shopping Center and one landed way up the heights. And for the many years, they could see the plane on the bottom of the ravine. But Japan never came after the war, never came to retrieve the remains.
A lot of the boys went to look at the plane that landed in the macadamia orchard side. There wasn’t Pearlridge Shopping Center. They said the pilots were all burnt to a crisp. Henry Yamaki was trying to pull some of the fuselage and grab some of the pieces, took it home. The father almost killed him, so mad. He said, “You damn fool, picking up a piece of that airplane.”
When the soldiers finally came, they pulled the pilot off the seat, they pulled him out. A square piece of paper fell down. And they looked at it and every target in Pearl Harbor was circled in red. Every plane, every ship and every area was circled. The pilots, like I said, they had Japanese nationals at the teahouse, at Alewa Heights. They said even at Alewa Heights they were able to use binoculars to see, so they knew everything. And so they said, “Somebody read the name.” The name was Shimizu. But we don’t know who read but anyway, the bottom of the name was Shimizu.
There were all kinds of rumors that the Japanese in Hawaii cut the sugar cane and made it into a swath like an arrow pointed to Pearl Harbor, they sabotaged the electric company, they blew up bridges. And there was an FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] agent, Robert Shivers. After one whole year of investigating, he made a report. There was not a single espionage or sabotage by Japanese residents living in Hawaii. He cleared all of the residents.
After that, oh, then, as nightfall came, we all ran up here. We ran all the way up to where Superintendent [Gustav] Webling had the house; [Robert] Spencer, principal of Roosevelt; and the other guy, what was his name? Principal of Farrington High School. Ah, I used to work there too, summertime, clean their yard. They had a big estate. We used to clean the yard there. David Oka and I used to clean.
It was more dangerous to come up because the military, the sailors, got so panicky that every little noise they heard, they’d start shooting. There were no enemy planes after that, after the first two waves of airplanes. Artillery shells were landing up in the hills, so we decided we better go down, it’s too dangerous to be up here. But Mrs. Spencer was so kind, that some of the people were in her garage right next to the road, just like my garage, you know, abutting the road, those days. One lady had a little baby crying, so she went and got some milk and fed the baby. She was like that. Mrs. Spencer, I got to know her because I worked their yard. Really nice person.
So we went down, and as the night wore on, we were told to cover our — black out all our windows. And if any light show through any crack — the civil defense guys, they were so panicky, they shot at anything — they would shoot into the house, you know. And every house had only one light from the ceiling, one incandescent light. That’s the way every home was built, with one light from the ceiling. And they would try to shoot that light. Dangerous, very dangerous.
And you know by Aiea Star Theater, Aiea Heights just from Moanalua, it started to go up the hill. I don’t know who it was, but those days, some haole families up here used to own Model-Ts going up. And one of the guards said, “Stop, stop, halt.” The car wouldn’t stop so he shot the driver dead. But it never came out in the news. But people in Aiea all know that the guard shot the driver, killed him. Well, you know why, you ride a Model-T and making such a noise, you’re not going to hear anybody say, “Halt.”
Reaction to Attack
Anyway, at first I was angry. Then I was kind of ashamed that our ancestors had come. And then my parents, you could see that they were so sad, so humiliated that their ancestors would come and attack Hawaii. And then after that, as the FBI came around, corral my [future] father-in-law, Rev. Hakuai Oda and other people, then fear crept in. Everybody started to get scared. So we went through the whole gamut of emotions: from anger, sadness, humiliation, then finally being scared of the civil defense, the military.
[The authorities] never came to our family because I guess barbers are very peaceful citizens (laughs). They only cause little scars on your cheek when they shave you.
Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Digital Archives and National Archives.