1399th Engineer Construction Battalion
December 7, 1941
Elbert is at his parents’ home on Sunday when he sees fire and smoke from a plane. Radio reports confirm it is a real attack.
He and a friend dash back to Schofield and, on the way, witness the destruction at Pearl Harbor.
At Schofield, Elbert is given the password, “ Shanghai.” That night, hyperalert guards cause bullets to fly “all over the place.”
Blackout is ordered. Breathing through a gas mask, Elbert cooks on a wood stove inside a light-sealed tent.
I was at home. [My house was on] Dillingham Boulevard. This was Sunday, so it was day off. So I was staying at my house and I see a lot of firing and smoke coming out of the plane. So I think, “Hey, this cannot be a practice run.” So when I turn on the radio, they say, “Oh, this is the real McCoy. All military personnel return to station immediately.” So I got on my car, pick up my friend, dash back to Schofield.
When we were going to Schofield, on the way, we can see the battleship aflame, burning. I was truly thankful that the Japanese pilots didn’t strafe us ’cause all the cars line up. They can just gun us down. They didn’t do that. So that’s why I’m alive. But that was some experience, though. Those people that went under that unexpected attack in Pearl Harbor.
We went to reception center [at Schofield] and right away they say — oh, first they told us, “Your password was Shanghai,” I think it was. So at night, you only went from place to place, the guard stops you and says, “What’s the password?” And if you don’t get ’em right, you might get shot. So we remember, Shanghai. I remember that.
And then at night, strange as it may seem, lot of [’03 Springfield rifle] bullets were flying all over the place. And next day when I went to see, one cow dead. (Chuckles) Somebody wen shoot the cow. The cow was making a movement, I guess, thought it was the enemy, so they shoot ’em.
Then I remember we went to a hike. We had the full pack and then we walk all the way to that point, there’s a mountain and you go up. Kolekole Pass. Walked to there and then walked back again. I remember the place. Well, that’s all I know about training and then cooking for the boys and so on.
Cooking Inside Tents
Right after December 7, everything went pitch-dark. No light.
[At] the tent city [at Schofield], there was no gas stove there. The guard would go around and say, “Hey, we got a light showing over here. You got to close ’em up.” And so we have to cook ’em in the tent. And then he says, “Wood stove.” How you going to do that? Blackout, yeah.
Then we wear the gas mask and cook. Underneath the tent, but it’s all open, the flap is open.
And then they bring big chunk of meat, one-quarter of a cow, frozen. Put ’em on the chopping block, we leave ’em over night to defrost. We don’t have no cutting tool so we used to use axe, chop it down with the axe. And then we would cook it, see.
And then, we had garrison ration in the beginning. We had everything you want to eat, so good. We had ice cream, we had hotcakes, anything like that, right on to dessert, you know, the whole works. And we don’t have no refrigerator, so anything left over, we throw them into the garbage can. And the people from Wahiawa, piggeries, they come and pick it up.
Elbert Arakawa's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of National Archives