On December 7, 1941, Tom Noble’s father was stationed on a cruiser in Pearl Harbor while Tom and the rest of the family lived in nearby Honolulu.
In the interview, Tom discusses his family’s whereabouts during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He speaks about how his family initially thought the attack was just a training exercise, but quickly realized that the danger was all too real. The family eventually evacuated their home fearing a full Japanese invasion of the island and anxiously awaited news on their father’s whereabouts.
When Pearl Harbor was First Attacked
I was a Navy Junior and my father was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Actually he was stationed on the USS Detroit. We had moved to Honolulu from California in ’39 and stayed there until the summer of ’42. So my mother and my sister and I were at home on December 7, in a part of Honolulu called Moana Valley. It is probably five, eight miles from Pearl Harbor. We were getting up and having breakfast and we got a phone call from a friend of my father’s, who was in Honolulu, well actually at Pearl Harbor. His ship was just visiting from the States; he was not stationed there. So, he was a friend that we had known in the past, and were planning to spend that Sunday down at the beach with him. And he called about, I guess it was about 7:20, 7:30, right in there. Said he didn’t think dad was coming home that day because they were having a strange exercise out at Pearl Harbor. He was out at the Alexander Young Hotel, and he said they’ve even spread oil on Hickam Field and set it afire, very realistic drill. And so we turn on the radio and then found out from the announcers that indeed the Japanese had attacked. So that’s how we first heard about it.
Anti-Aircraft Shell in Town
In fact, in downtown Honolulu, in spite of what the magazines said, there was only one projectile hit in Honolulu itself. And it was a returning anti-aircraft shell, not a Japanese bomb. And it hit a drug store, and Mrs. Nichols and her son were adjacent to the drug store when the shell hit. She happened to be in first gear, and when she got to our house, she was still in first gear. (laughs) She just put the pedal to the metal and came right on up.
Evacuation from Hawaii
We finally got evacuated in March or early April. We had been called to an earlier evacuation but mother went into hiding if you will, and we missed the ship so we were able to stay an extra month. And the reason for the evacuation was pretty much because the Hawaiian Islands aren’t self-sufficient food-wise and the fewer people that were there, the less [food] would have to be shipped out to the island. So we felt that was really the reason we were evacuated. Not from any fear of the Japanese coming.
Life after Pearl Harbor
We lived pretty much [the same] as before [Pearl Harbor was attacked.] We got black paint – I think it was artist’s paint of some kind – and we blacked out all the windows. We painted the headlights of the car, painted them over with just a little blue dot in the middle. As I said, whisky rationing happened right away. That didn’t bother me, but my mother made note of it to me.
Spotting the USS Shaw Story
Well one thing (this is a one-day event), we were at the beach in January or February. Now do I have to explain that that’s warm climate … you can go to the beach in January or February? And we saw a destroyer going by, and, by golly, its camouflage was so good, you couldn’t even see the front portion. You just saw the back end of it. It turns out it was the [USS] Shaw. And the Shaw had his bow blown off, and he put a temporary stub-bow on and sent it back to the States. So what we were looking at really didn’t have a bow.
Lack of Discrimination in Hawaii
Did you know if the Japanese-Americans [in Hawaii] felt anything discriminatory after Pearl Harbor?
Absolutely not. About six months before the war started – maybe a year before – there was an exercise where the National Guard manned all kinds of places around. Actually, in town, we had a machine gun nest on a corner one block from us. It was a bunch of sandbags set up for a machine gun nest. All the National Guards there were Japanese. They were American, but they looked Japanese.
Well, I don’t know if there was hatred in California or if it was just in Washington, but when they interned all of those people, it was a terrible thing to do. Heck, two out of every ten people in Hawaii were of Japanese origin. The people there did not think that just because they looked like a Japanese person that they were enemies. It would have been hell to pay if they did.