I happened to catch the movie Pearl Harbor the other night. I know it was panned by the critics but every time I see it, I am transfixed by the images. My family has a very strong connection to Hawaii and to Pearl as my Mom, her parents, Nana and Grandpa, and her 2 siblings were living there when Pearl was bombed. Grandpa was an electrical engineer employed by the government to set up communication systems for the territory as it was then. Nana had a full time job working in the phone company which was unusual for women in that time. She was the head operator and used to roller skate up and down the switchboard line helping out the other girls. I always get a giggle when I think of my 4 foot 10 inch Nana on roller skates. In fact, Nana was working the morning of December 7th and got the call from Fort Shafter that they were under attack. You may remember that the timing of the Japanese attack was supposed to be simultaneous but there were some glitches in their plans. Fort Shafter spotted the incoming planes before the other 2 targets, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field, were bombed. She called Grandpa to find out who she should notify as he knew all the admirals and generals on the island. After Grandpa gave her the information he scooped up my Mom, her sister and brother and headed up to a high point overlooking the Harbor with his camera. They watched the attack from there and Grandpa snapped away at the devastation. Being an amateur photographer he usually developed his own film but he wanted a professional to handle this precious cargo. When the developer saw what was on the film, he called the OSS and they confiscated the film. We’ve never gotten it back. I often wonder when I see pictures from the hill overlooking the harbor, if those were taken by Grandpa.
As I watched the movie with all the chaos and destruction, I am transported back to what it must have been like for my family. My mom was too young to remember all that happened, she just remembers how wonderful and idyllic their life was on the island. I can only imagine the fear my grandparents felt for themselves and their children. Nana was pregnant with her fourth when all civilians were ordered back to the mainland. They endured a month long journey by ship back to the States where one of the other transports was hit by a Japanese torpedo and everyone had to be offloaded onto the other ships. All while being pregnant, seasick and dealing with 3 kids. When I used to ask her about it, she’d brush it off saying “it was what we had to do” but I doubt if I would have been as strong or courageous as she was. When I feel life is difficult for me, I think back to what they endured and help myself to a big dose of perspective.