Recalling planes over Pearl Harbor

Vancouver woman who grew up in Honolulu remembers day of attack, how it affected her community

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Lillian Christina and her friends grew up on America’s stronghold in the Pacific, so the sight and sound of airplanes wasn’t unusual.

“Hawaii was an island fortress,” Christina said.

The aircraft they saw 76 years ago, however, had some unusual features.

“We heard airplanes, looked up and saw these silver planes with big red dots on the wings,” recalled the Vancouver woman, one of eight kids, who was playing in the yard after church. “We waved. We were even yelling ‘hi.'”

The aircraft were Japanese warplanes, flying over her neighborhood near Diamond Head during the second attack wave against Pearl Harbor.

The attack on Dec. 7, 1941, plunged the United States into World War II. The day now is noted on the December calendar as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. At 85, Christina still remembers plenty.

The day frequently has been observed with ceremonial events, although no public commemorations were announced locally this year.

While all Americans were affected, the 9-year-old girl and her family — and everybody else she knew — found themselves on a wartime footing. Her family was affected immediately because her father, a former sailor, had a civilian job at Pearl Harbor.

It wasn’t long, she said, before “our mother called us. ‘Get in the house.'”

Her father was listening to the radio, and Christina can still recall the voice of KGMB broadcaster Webley Edwards.

“The thing I remember most was the announcer saying, ‘This is no joke. The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. All military personnel, report to your base.’ Then we were afraid.”

Her family lived more than 20 miles from Pearl Harbor in Honolulu. “We wouldn’t have been able to hear the bombs, she said, although “we saw gray puffs of smoke.”

When her dad, Frank Medeiros, went back to Pearl Harbor, there was plenty of work to be done.

“He helped with the cleanup,” she said.

There probably was more to it than that: “We were told he was helping them move bodies.”

When the kids were able to go back to school, they were greeted with the realities of an island at war. They lined up for blood-typing.

“They pricked our ear and took our blood. If we were hit by a bullet, they could say, ‘Let’s see. Her type is ‘A.'”

Christina still has the well-creased card that lists her blood type.

Issued a gas mask

She also was issued a gas mask, along with every other child in the school. The kids took them wherever they went.

“I remember putting the gas mask on and feeling suffocated,” she said. “We tightened the straps and stared at each other.”

When Red Cross activities took priority in their school building, “Many classes were held outdoors. But it was Hawaii, so it didn’t matter,” she said.

There were more wartime measures at home.

“We dug a bomb shelter,” she said, and the kids took part. “Of course: We helped dig. When it was done, every once in a while we’d play in it.”

They blacked out their windows and dug a victory garden.

“We started collecting all kinds of materials for the war effort,” she said. “We even saved the silver papers from cigarette packs.”

Food was rationed, but that didn’t matter much to her family, Christina said: “We were already poor.”

What did matter was how the war affected her community.

“The thing that was really bad is that Hawaii is a rainbow of people. I had Japanese friends, Chinese friends and Philippine friends.” And she couldn’t play with some of them, including Thomas Shimabuku.

“I went to his house and his mother said, ‘Nope. He cannot play. We shamed.'”

In addition to her blood-type card and some vintage newspapers, Christina has another keepsake from her war years. It’s her 1945 publication from Kaimuki Intermediate School. There is an account of how the families of Kaimuki students contributed to the war. The school’s 669 students had 722 relatives who were in uniform or who had served. A branch of the Shimabuku family was honored for special achievement: It had six boys in the service, including one who had been killed.