On 7 December 1941, the "Day of Infamy," the United States and its armed forces were plunged into the most costly war in history.
On this the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Oahu, the Air Force story of 7 December is told in its entirety for the first time. Often times the heroism and anguish of airmen at Wheeler, Hickam, and Bellows have been overshadowed by the main event, the attack on Pearl Harbor itself. 7 December 1941: The Air Force Story corrects this oversight. The Japanese attack on the airfields of Oahu was an integral part of their overall plan, and their objectives were achieved. The Hawaiian Air Force was dealt a crippling blow, despite often heroic effort to counter the attack.
But we recovered quickly, and soon air power was to play a major role in winning the war in the Pacific theater. Today 7 December stands as an important symbol in our history. The day of infamy reminds us of the need to maintain the nation's defense at a high state of readiness. It also symbolizes the beginning of nearly four years of war in the Pacific, in a geographical area stretching from the Aleutians to Australia.
Today the men and women of the Pacific Air Forces stand guard for freedom in this vast theater. We who now proudly wear the uniform remember the brave airmen of fifty years ago. We salute those who battled bravely on that December morning in defense of our nation. This book ensures that their valor and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
JIMMIE V. ADAMS, General, USAF
Commander in Chief
Pacific Air Forces
December 7, 1941, was by any assessment a devastating day. The Hawaiian Air Force suffered a crippling blow, but the genesis of recovery and final victory over the enemy emerged in the valor of those who weathered the onslaught and fought back with everything they had.
In the 50 years since then, the attack has become a faded memory for some and to many members of the younger generation just another moment in history. It deserves better understanding and commemoration, however, for this sudden, damaging strike on our forces marked the beginning of America's involvement in a terrible global war that was massive in scope and destruction.
At Hickam Air Force Base, reminders of the attack are still visible. The tattered flag that flew over the base that fateful morning is encased and on display in the lobby of the Pacific Air Forces Headquarters building, where bullet-scarred walls serve as a constant reminder to never again be caught unprepared. Memorial tablets surrounding the base flagpole pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for our country.
Our predecessors, with their blood and sweat, boldly wrote a major chapter of our military history. We must never forget their story and the legacy of experience--that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and readiness.
15th Air Base Wing
Literature on the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack that launched the United States into World War II is extensive. Japan's primary objective that day was to cripple the US Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, and the Navy's experience during the attack has been chronicled in detail. Control of the air over the island of Oahu was essential to the success of the attack, but documentation on Army Air Forces involvement has been sparse and often fragmented. Consequently, few people understand why the Hawaiian Air Force was so unprepared to accomplish its air defense mission or realize the extent of the damage and casualties It sustained on that "Day of Infamy."
This book is an attempt to remedy that situation, and the events and actions of the US Army Air Forces on 7 December are told in the following pages. In this writing we have attempted to answer several important questions. Why was the Imperial Japanese Navy able to devastate the Hawaiian Air Force with little to no opposition? Why was the American air arm with over 200 aircraft, including long-range bombers, six radar stations, a trained ground observer unit, and extensive antiaircraft weapons units unable to perform its primary job of protecting the fleet? Why were all available aircraft unarmed and lined up like sitting ducks on the flight line at each base? Why were the radar stations shut down at 0700 on the morning of the attack? Where was the central fighter control unit, and why was it not activated prior to the attack?
To a large extent this work Is based on primary source documentation. We have included numerous anecdotes from firsthand accounts of individuals who were stationed at Hawaiian Air Force installations prior to and during the attack. They provide insight into military life during an assignment in "Paradise" which turned into a "Hell in Paradise" on 7 December 1941. We hope these tales of horror, heroism, fear, and even humor bring to life the events of that day.
Our story begins with a look at the overall position of the Hawaiian Air Force before that fateful morning--its leadership, assigned personnel and aircraft, and air defense system. Next, we examine in detail the three main airfields on Oahu-Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows--to determine what duty was like at these installations, training activities, the condition of equipment, and morale of the men. We then go into the actual attack, first describing the overall action, then detailing what occurred at each of the major bases, concluding with a discussion of events that took place after the attack.
Throughout the book, all times given are local and in the 24 -hour military style; dates are also in the military format. Statistical data has been placed in appendices following the narrative. We believe the casualty lists included there are the most comprehensive compiled to date, and they cover not only Army Air Forces members, but also civilians who were killed or wounded on the three main airfields, and other Army personnel (infantry,
coast artillery, etc.) killed or wounded that day. The Army casualties were added when we discovered that many of the source documents used in compiling the lists did not specify the individuals' unit of assignment, making it impossible to identify only Army Air Forces members. Of significance is the fact that all personnel originally reported as MIA (missing in action) have since been identified as either KIA (killed in action), WIA (wounded in action), or ALW (alive and well).
We have used the term "Hawaiian Air Force" when the narrative specifically talks about Hawaiian Air Force units, and "Army Air Forces" rather than "Army Air Corps" in referring to the air arm of the US Army, which today is the separate and independent US Air Force. When the Army Air Forces (AAF) was created on 20 June 1041, the Army Air Corps was not abolished but continued as one of the three major components of the AAF, along with Headquarters AAF and the Air Force Combat Command. Personnel could have been assigned to any one of the three components and frequently changed form one to another without even realizing it. To avoid confusion we decided to consistently use Army Air Forces when discussing events occurring after 20 June 1941.
Although we endeavored to learn the full names and ranks of all personnel mentioned, we were unable to do so in a few cases where source documents provided only last names or omitted ranks. The term "Jap" is used apologetically and only in direct quotes, recognizing the derogatory connotation of that word, particularly to Americans of Japanese ancestry. Also, one of the illustrations in Chapter II may be considered by some to be sexist and offensive; however, we view it as an accurate representation of artwork in the 1940s and essential to our written narrative.
Our primary source of information for this book was the historical archives of the 15th Air Base Wing at Hickam Air Force Base. Here are located official documents, personal papers and firsthand accounts of survivors, the original handwritten records of Major Charles P. Eckhert (Hickam Field's maintenance officer at the time of the attack), photographs from official sources and private collections, correspondence with various researchers, and an assortment of reference books and other published works. The resources of the National Park Service's USS Arizona Memorial, including their copy of the 40-volume reports of the joint congressional committee which investigated the attack, were of immeasurable assistance.
We are indebted to many people who generously shared their wealth of knowledge and resources with us. David Aiken of Irving, Texas, in particular, not only took the time to review our manuscript for technical accuracy but also provided valuable information and documents that we had believed were nonexistent. Thanks to him, we were finally able to get a complete listing of the twelve B-17 aircraft and crew members who arrived from Hamilton Field in the middle of the attack. We are also most grateful to Mr. Raymond D. Emory (Pearl Harbor Survivor) and Mr. Robert E. May (Secretary-Treasurer, 11th Bombardment Group Association) for their generosity in providing us with the results of
their years of research to identify those killed in action on 7 December 1941, and for also furnishing numerous other listings of personnel who were wounded in action. A debt of gratitude is owed to Gary Hawn of the National Personnel Record Center at St Louis, Missouri, for painstakingly checking all the names on our list against the records being held at the Center. This task was particularly difficult because of a fire several years ago that destroyed all the records from this particular era. In many cases Mr. Hawn had to locate several supporting documents, such as travel orders or hospital records before he could verify a name. Special thanks to Ted Darcy of Kailua, Oahu, for providing information from his data bank of aircraft crashes and for sharing microfilm from his personal collection; Mrs Betsy Camacho, Bellows Air Force Station Public Affairs Specialist, for sharing her extensive photo and firsthand account collection with us; to Susan Ohara of the graphics section at Hickam AFB for her work on the charts and maps used in this book; TSgt Bryan Lopatic, also from the graphics section for his beautiful painting used on the cover; and to the Base Photo Lab personnel for their help with the many photographs included in this publication.
This project would not have been undertaken without the support and encouragement of Dr. Timothy R. Keck, Pacific Air Forces Command Historian. Over eighteen months ago Dr. Keck came to us with the basic idea for the book and has encouraged and assisted us ever since. Mrs Patricia M. Wilson, historian and editor on the PACAF history staff, has put in more hours and hard work than both the authors combined, editing and designing the layout for the book. Editing assistance was also provided by Mr. Bernard C. Nalty of the HQ USAF History office, several 7 December survivors and Capt Mardi Wilcox, USAF, who read the rough drafts and offered comments and corrections. We are grateful to all.
Last but not least, our sincere thanks to the many individuals who contributed personal accounts and photographs. The names of those who provided us with photographs used in this book are included in parentheses following the photo captions. Names are also given for those whose stories are used directly in the book, but to all others who provided us with the flavor of what it must have been like to be on the island of Oahu on the morning of 7 December 1941, thank you, and may God grant you a special place in heaven for being here that fateful morning.
JOHN R. KUBORN
Deputy Command Historian
Headquarters Pacific Air Forces
LEATRICE R. ARAKAKI
15th Air Base Wing
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