pearl harbor 4


U.S. servicemen visiting the sisters in Maui.

Firsthand account of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Sister Adele Marie Lemon of the Los Angeles Province.

“On the morning of December seventh [1941], Sister Frances Celine [Leahy], Sister Martha Mary [McGaw] and I [Sister Adele Marie Lemon] got into our taxi as usual, at seven-thirty, and set out for the Barracks [Schofield Barracks to teach catechism to children of army personnel]. As we neared the Pearl Harbor district, about 7:50, we noticed planes, scores of them, flying unusually low. Two planes swooped so close to our machine that we commented about the long red objects fastened beneath them. Our driver remarked that these were probably torpedo bombs on some of our new planes. Suddenly we heard the rat-a-tat-tat of guns. Planes soared on both sides of us, diving and soaring in an extraordinary way. We drove on thinking all the time that sham maneuvers were taking place on a grand scale this cloudy Sunday morning. Little did we dream that those agile bombers were even then hurling destructive missiles. Once I glanced up from our Office book just in time to see a plane diving toward the earth with wings in vertical position. I didn’t see it land, but we began to suspect something.

“As we approached Schofield Barracks, a vast cloud of dense, black smoke arose from the horizon and crawled skyward. We thought at first that a cane field was on fire; yet, there was something ominous about that cloud. A few minutes later, we saw that some of the hangars at Wheeler Field were in flames. At the gate of the Barracks, our car was stopped by guards—something which never happened before.

“’Is this real, Officer, or only maneuvers?’ I inquired. The expression of the guard’s face was answer enough even before he spoke.

“’I’m afraid it’s real, Sister,’ he replied. Then, with a nod to the driver, he said, ‘Get going, fast!’

“We rode past the great hangars from which poured the thick column of smoke. Machines, army trucks, and tanks came pell-melling down the road. Soldiers seemed to be running in all directions and the sharp rat-a-tat-tat of guns came in quick succession. A soldier crouching under a tree yelled ‘Air raid.’ At us, but anxiety to reach the chapel make us heedless and we drove on. We passed a demolished house upon which a bomb had fallen a few moments before. Much to our relief, we arrived whole and entire at the little chapel which was always filled to capacity on Sunday morning; but today it looked strangely empty. Four soldiers and a handful of women and children formed the congregation. Mass began. All during the Mass, men with strained looks on their faces drove up to the little chapel and asked [us] to take their children. One officer had bullet holes through the rear end of his car. I kept walking back and forth, escorting children of anxious parents. A soldier ran up and shouted, ‘Have the women and children ready to evacuate at a minute’s notice. Tell the chaplain.’ I glanced up at the altar. The Offertory had just begun. I sent the word to Father O’Brien by the usher. He made the disquieting announcement calmly and Mass went on. The firing of guns continued intermittently. After Mass the remaining members of the congregation vanished quickly.

“We went to the sacristy to ask Father’s blessing before attempting the twenty-three mile journey home. We tried to phone Honolulu but communication was impossible. The shooting had ceased now in our area but army trucks were dashing with breath-taking speed in all directions. Our taxi driver made the wise suggestion that we wait at the taxi stand until the traffic was less congested. We agreed, and our machine pulled in under cover.

“Directly in front of us was the Schofield post office over which waved the American flag. A squad of about sixteen soldiers armed to the teeth took positions beneath it. A plane roared overhead and what a thunderous barrage followed. I looked for the 99th time at my two companions, Sister Frances Celine and Sister Martha Mary. The former was crying; the latter, ghastly pale, but she assured me she never felt safer in her life. (We’ve had some laughs over that remark since then.) The three of us got out of the machine. The noise and action were so distracting that somehow or other my brain didn’t function quickly enough to register fear. I remember winding my rosary around my wrist as the guns spat forth their deadly fire. It’s strange how utterly devoid of sense or feeling one can become in the face of danger. When the shooting died down, we asked two or three of the men if they thought it would be safer for us at the post chapel.

“’You’re as safe here as anywhere, Sisters.’ They answered grimly.

“One by one the taxi drivers were called off with the taxis. Our driver informed us that he, too, had to leave as his post of duty in this emergency was at an ammunition depot. We decided to go with him. Two drivers got in the cab; one, to take our driver to his post, and the other to attempt to get us through to Honolulu. We left the latter at X……. (That’s to save the censor some trouble.) and then began that homeward journey. Army vehicles screamed past us. Our car was stopped many times by guards along the way. At one point someone yelled ‘Air raid. Take cover.’ And we catapulted from our machine and rushed for a sugar cane field. Far to our right were two airplanes engaged in a dog fight. Dark little smoke puffs from antiaircraft batteries hung high above us. When the planes retreated, we made for our machine and were about to resume the homeward journey when an officer informed our driver that all roads to Honolulu were closed. He ordered us back to Schofield but upon arriving at one of its gates, we were refused admittance, for all the women were being evacuated. We drove on to Wahiawa where we teach catechism for Father Peter Van Megen. Here we learned that a Japanese plane had crashed three hundred yards from the church. The pilot was burned to death in his wreckage. Our driver was informed that the big grey busses were permitted to get through into Honolulu. We decided to make another attempt, this time in a bus. Fortunately, we had seventy-five cents of children’s collection money with us. The Chinese bus driver apprised us of the fact that the fare was one dollar and fifty cents. I showed him a handful of change, explaining that we hadn’t another penny, and assured him that if he managed to get us through to Honolulu we would pay him the balance at the other end. He cheerfully acquiesced, and once more we were headed for home—the sole occupants of a bus that could easily have carried thirty people.

“The army monopolized the road. Motorcycles, ambulances, tanks, and trucks full of soldiers dashed past us with incredible speed. As we approached the Pearl harbor district, we saw great clouds of smoke arising from two ships. One, the Arizona, I believe, was gradually sinking. It is well that the distance and the dense screen of smoke hid from our view the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, charred bodies, mangled forms, trapped sailors, and men swimming through oily waters, a struggle between life and death. We could see our ships firing and being fired upon by dive bombers and torpedo planes. On shore, men were running and crouching and shooting up into a grey cloudy sky. My eyes may hove deceived me, but as one plane swooped toward the earth, I thought I saw a swastika painted on its side. On the wing tips of others, we could se the Rising Sun, the emblem of Japan. (May it set soon.) Our little Chinaman was loquacious but he traveled quickly through a danger zone in which we could have been struck by shrapnel or machine gun fire. God was good to us.

“At noon we drove into Honolulu. Large groups of civilians, mostly men, stood at every street corner. They seemed bewildered, incredulous. The traffic was very heavy and everywhere policemen were forcing cars to park along the curbing so that the army might have the right of way. What a relief it was to come to the haven of our convent. We told our story to the Sisters but they also had one to tell us. They had been at the children’s Mass when the bombs began to fall in nearby areas. Frantic parents rushed into the church to take their children home. We learned later that two of our children, a girl from the ninth grade and another from the second, together with their uncle and a cousin had been killed by shrapnel on the porch of their own home.

“That afternoon, when everything seemed quiet, four of us decided to go to the funeral services of one of the Sacred Heart Sister who had died the day previous. We went down back lanes until we came to the beautiful Nuuanu convent. Mother Johanna met us at the rear entrance. She explained that she had been trying to reach us by phone to tell us not to come as there were to be no funeral services. No members of the community were being permitted to go to the cemetery site, since it was in a danger zone. Only the priest was allowed to accompany the undertaker. On the way home from Nuuanu, we stopped to view a house which had been bombed that morning.

“Evening came, and, as a complete blackout had been announced over the radio, we retired early, with the exception of the two who were to take their turn for Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Prayer is the surest weapon, is it not? Since the war started, we have added an hour or more of extra prayers to our usual ones. This is our little contribution to the defense program. Most of us had just got settled for the night’s rest, after an exciting day, when suddenly, about nine o’clock cannons began to roar. We ran to the windows and looked westward toward Pearl Harbor. What a gigantic display of fireworks spread in a fan-like shape far into the sky. The booming of the guns shook not only our house but our hearts, Then, all was ominously quiet and once more we took to our beds; but this time, we didn’t undress. The night was interminable. Around five, the next morning, there was another raid of short duration; once again some of us stood at our windows looking out, horrified, yet, fascinated by that awful exhibition of attack and defense fire. When the shooting died down, the Sisters went to the chapel to begin morning prayers; I lingered at the second floor window.

“Suddenly, I was frozen to the spot by a loud, long-drawn-out swish…sh…sh… Years ago, in Arizona, I heard a rattle snake hiss. This sinister sound was like all the rattle snakes of the world put together. I knew it was a bomb which had passed somewhere over our house. I knew it had fallen in the garden below; I knew that in a moment it was going to explode; I knew that my knees were shaking and that my heart was going through some queer antics.

“’It’s going to explode…it’s going to explode,’ some innermost faculty kept repeating, but my feet were paralyzed. Finally, they found wings and, in less time than it takes to write it, I was downstairs, in the chapel, and on my knees. Msgr. Sheen said in one of his broadcasts, ‘If your knees shake, kneel on them.’ We tested his advice two weeks or more before he gave it. It works. But to return to that malevolent bomb, we heard later that it had crashed, with exhausted fury, no doubt, into a rock formation on the heights several blocks above us. What’s a few blocks to a temperamental bomb? We’re grateful it didn’t decide to deposit itself upon St. Theresa’s.”

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