pearl harbor 6


Recollections of Sister Catherine Brandt

"December 7, 1941, was my turn to stay home. I had checked all the names in the classrooms and was taking the boys in rank to church for Mass. I had all the boys and another sister had all the girls. We were running late so I was trying to hurry the boys along but they kept stopping to look up at a plane. They kept saying 'Sister, one bomber, one bomber.' I looked up and the plane was flying so low that I could see the pilot's face. I often wonder if he might not have been the man who gave orders to start the bombing because we just got in the door of the church when the most deafening noise you can imagine began. You can't imagine how loud it was; one hundred planes bombing simultaneously. I thought there might have been an acident over at Pearl Harbor and all the ammunition had been tripped off all at once. We had had a tour of Pearl Harbor about three weeks before and all the communication lines had been explained to us. So I kept thinking, it can't be an enemy, no enemy can get in here. Now, if I thought this was for real I'd get under a pew. It seemed like every vehicle in Honolulu was passing by, just racing past our church. In a few minutes a man came rushing in saying frantically, 'Give me my kids, give me my kids. I want them out of here. They'll get these tall buildings first.' Because we did not recognize this man we had a hard time finding his children. He had no sooner gone when a lady came asking for her children. I knew her and easily found her two. At communion time Mother Virginia [Becker] came down the aisle telling us that Pearl Harbor had been raided. I kept thinking - raided - what does that mean? The only time I had heard of a raid was during prohibition time when the policemen would raid the saloons.

"Finally, Mass ended and there was a moment of quiet. As the boys and I came out of church, we saw all the Koreans on the porch for nine o'clock Mass because nine o'clock was the Korean Mass. They had such serious looks on their faces that one would think their last friend had been buried. When we got outside and saw the sky, we just stood still in our tracks. I had never seen smoke so black and so shiny, the whole sky was filled with it. Across the street was an Army man and I wondered how one man could yell so loud, 'Take cover, take cover, you fools.' The children scattered. Then I went around the church to the side door where Father Athanasius, our pastor, Mother Virginia, and Sister Faber were trying to figure out what this was. Father kept saying, 'Whatever it is it can't be war.' And he went off to the rectory. The others said they were going to the convent to turn on the radio to find out what it was. I thought I'll find out soon enough so I'll just go into nine o'clock Mass as I always do. We used to say our office during the Korean sermon. Well, we had just gone into church when all that racket started again. It was the second wave, only this time it seemed even worse because we could hear things falling apart. One time I thought, now that was the kindergarten. I allowed myself one peak out the window and the kindergarten was still standing. I guess it was the electric plant next door. I was thinking, 'I'll die saying the Office.' It turned out two houses had gotten hit at the end of our block.

"After Mass we finally got back to the convent again. Our biggest concern was for our sisters who were out teaching catechism, especially the three that taught at Schofield Barracks. They used to take the children to Mass first and then take them to catechism after Mass. A certain man used to drive them there every Sunday. We were used to maneuvers, etc. when we'd hear shooting, so when this car was going by Pearl Harbor, they saw the plances with the Rising Suns on them they thought they were making the maneuvers lifelike.

"The next minute they saw smoke and all the noise. When the driver saw that this was for real he said, 'Sisters, I'm sorry, I can't take you to Schofield. I have the keys for ammunition in my pocket. I have to get to work.' He did find someone to take them onto Schofield and when they got to Schofield they said all the officers were out in front of their houses shooting at the different planes. I was so concerned about them getting home because all I could think of was coming back they have to pass Pearl Harbor. I remembered all those oil tanks they would have to go by. Anyway, someone got them a bus and they were the only three on the bus back to Honolulu. At one time they were so afraid that the bus driver stopped the bus and they all got out and hid in the cane fields. They did finally arrive home safely and how grateful we were.

"It didn't occur to me that Sunday that we wouldn't be having school the next day. I had papers in my classroom that needed to be graded. I thought I would go over there and get those papers. Every time I went outside and looked up at the sky instead of going across the property where my classroom was, I ducked back in the house. I tried this several times. I was watching the boys behind our house I think they got the idea they'd play some ball and they did the same as I did; come out, see the sky, duck back into the house. Everytime the noise started I always thought somehow or another I was going to die. I remember thinking I'd die pouring the water; I'll die doing this or that.

"Early in the afternoon we already had a military governor and we had to have our radios turned on at all times to hear his orders. Around four o'clock in the afternoon, some sisters thought they would take a walk. Immediately a military man was there saying, 'Those white gimps you are wearing can be seen from the planes. You'd better get back in the house.' We couldn't even go out for a walk in our own yard. The most important order we got from the military governor was about the blackout. Absolutely no lights could be seen or could be shown. It seemed to me every group of little houses had what I thought of as its guardian soldier who would have to see to it that no lights were on.

"Night prayers, which included the Litany of the Saints had to be said without a light. Sister Thomasina and I used to get up on Monday mornings early to do the wash and at six o'clock the rest of the community would come out to hang it up. This evening Sister Thomasina said, 'How are we going to do that wash in the morning with no light?' I said, 'Oh, the moon will be shining. We'll see. We'll get along all right.' When I got down there the next morning it was so black. It must have been a new moon or something; you couldn't see a hand before your face. After a little while, I began to feel my way around and then Sister Thomasina came down. When she looked her first words were, 'Where's the moon?' We were in the blackout for four years. We had to do everything in the dark and we had funny stories about the blackout. Father's housekeeper said she bumped her head in the dark and wanted to put some salve on her forehead. She smelled what she had in her hand and it turned out to be shoe polish she had put on her head.

"One time the servicemen wanted to give us a treat, black cows. In the dark we had sodas and ice cream. We had put them in the sink. As we served them Sister Felix was sitting next to me and asked, 'Do you have ice cream in your glass?' I said, 'Yes.' She said she had no ice cream in her glass. I said she must because 'We put one scoop of ice cream in every glass.' I could hear her spoon hitting against the glass. She said, 'I'm going down to that room and get our blacked out flashlight and see if I have ice cream in here.' We went down there and saw she had no ice cream in her glass. So we went to the kitchen with that flashlight and there on the kitchen sink was her scoop of ice cream. We had missed the glass.

"During the blackout days we learned the hardest thing to do in the dark was to get the toothpaste onto the toothbrush. The way to do it was to put the toothbrush between your thumb and first finger and you'll get it on.

"That first night as we started up the stairs to go to bed I wondered how many times I was supposed to have died today. We just got to the landing we saw through the window on the landing that all of Pearl Harbor was fire red...All of the black smoke of the day had turned to red, red, red. I thought there would be nothing left in Pearl Harbor. So, we turned back and decided we would keep vigil before the Blessed Sacrament that night. We decided on a list of turns, two of us at a time. We did that all during the time we were not in school, and on weekends after school started.

"There was no school for six weeks but this was still a busy time. Everyone on the island had to be fingerprinted. The fingerprinting was not so bad for us because all we had to do was to wait in the long lines. We knew that gas masks were coming, but during the interim, we had to sew a facemask for each one of our students. When school resumed each classroom was equipped with two pails, newspapers, and a bottle of Clorox. Two eighth grade girls were assigned to each primary classroom to help the teacher in case of an attack. The two girls were to get the water, help make the classroom airtight by stuffing Clorox soaked newspaper all around the windows and doors. The masks that we made had to be dipped in the Clorox water before they were put on the children...There were about four different sizes of gas masks and we were to look at the general contour of the faces and then choose one that we thought would fit the face. Then we'd do the specifics of fitting. It was funny, we had done this so much that anytime we went on a bus or in a group of people the first thing I would think would be A1, C2; I would always think of the genreal size when I saw a person...

"For the safety of our children in case of another air raid, the army dug trenches. Our whole schoolyard was filled with open trenches, one trench for each classroom. When we practiced for this it seemed to me that the children were out there under heaven. I remember saying to the sister whose class was next to mine, 'I'm going to have mine bring potato sacks for some kind of camouflage.' She said, 'I'm going to put my shawl over them.' After awhile I think the army saw that this wasn't any good so they built air raid shelters and the back part of our grounds was all filled with shelters, one shelter for each classroom. The children just fit. I had 63 so it was a tight fit in our air raid shelter. We had to plan entertainment and things in case we had to go out there. There was no second attack, but we did practice.

At first we were told if there were a second attack on the islands St. Theresa's would be a sight for big guns and we sisters would all go up to the hospital to live. I'm glad that didn't go through, although I don't know if what actually happened was any better. The next plan was that we would be an evacuation center. To prepare for this everyone of us had a certain station, a certain responsibility and mine was food. I was going to have to take care of all the meals. I had to work very closely with the health department and they told me we could not even have a dishpan. Every dish had to be washed under running water. I said, 'We can't cope with that.' They said, 'Yes you can. You get your men to build you some troughs down to School street and you just let the water run down to the street.' I didn't know that running water was that important, more important even than soap, for preventing infection. They kept telling me, 'you don't want an infection in your camp.' So we had our running water. So every time, and it happened eight times during the war, that there was an alarm, all I was thinking of was what are we going to have. I would be planning the first meal instead of being afraid. The one thing about that food business was the paperwork. I don't know how we ever would have coped with that. It seems we had papers and papers for every can we used. I'm glad that never came to pass.

"During the war we washed our sheets on Saturdays. The other washing was done on Mondays. One Saturday we had all the sheets out on the line and didn't the alarms go off. We had to take all the sheets down and put them in water until Monday. I couldn't believe it when the next Saturday again we had all the sheets on the line, and again all the alarms went off. I couldn't believe that two weeks in a row we would have the sheets in the water over the weekend. Anyway, the second time I looked over towards Pearl Harbor and there was a beautiful double rainbow, just like a gateway into the harbor. All I could think was, 'That's a sign everything is going to be safe.'

"Another thing we had to do in order to be ready for a second attack was to get acquainted with the hospital. They wanted us sisters to feel at home in every department so we could be assigned anywhere to help in case of need. Several of us went to the hospital at a time. We began at central supply worked there about two weeks to get the feel of it. Then we were changed to another department, and then another, and then another. At the end of our training session we were given a little slip telling us where to report in case of need. I thought I was going to be assigned to bedside care and when I got my paper I was told to go to surgery. It was really quite an experience and I was present for many operations...

"The beginning of the war was the most frightening time for us because the Japanese had been very successful in each of their campaigns, the Philippines, Singapore, etc. These all fell. Because our rectory was the local office for civilian defense we knew a large fleet set out from Japan headed for Hawaii. We were supposed to be the Emperor's birthday present and his birthday was near the end of June. We had alert, double alert, and triple alert. We were told there were no maneuvers these days, if we heard a shot we should get down on the ground. I thought if I lived until June 29th I would never be afraid again...

"All during the war we entertained servicemen. New York's 27th Division Signal Corps was located on the property adjoining us. Those boys were at our place every free minute they had. Also, the boys from the Navy and Marine Corps would come in the evenings or late afternoons...We would have wonderful Bridge games and then there would be all kinds of other conversations. One problem was the officers were not allowed to associate with the enlisted men. So when the officers came, they would go to the kitchen and play cards there and felt free to help themselves to anything they found in the icebox. On Sunday evenings there would be so many for supper there was no way to get the dishes finished in time for Benediction. So there was sort of a general rule that the Catholics went to Benediction and the Protestants stayed home and did the dishes. Then on Monday morning we would never know where we would find the things. Just for devilment they'd have put the coffeepot with the cups or something.

"While servicemen were preparing to go on a campaign, probably for security reasons, they did not know their destination. They learned this only after they were at sea. Our boys had an expression, 'down under.' When they told us they were going 'down under' we doubled our prayers for them because we could tell they were nervous. One time they made a code two pages long of all the possible places they could be going. The code was very simple. 'Dear Sisters' meant one place, 'dear friends' would mean another, 'how are you' would mean something else, 'God bless you' at the end of the letter meant Saipan. So when we received a letter ending with 'God bless you,' and the newpaper headlines read 'Saipan invaded' we knew our boys were involved. I could see why the government didn't want the families to know where their sons were. If we felt so bad for the boys, how much worse it must have been for their families.

"Speaking of coffeepots, as soon as you can't get something that is when your's will break. About the first week of the war our percolator gave out. There was no way to buy a percolator, so for the rest of the war we had to boil our coffee. Everything that came to us during the war had to come in convoys. Sometimes we would go out on a Saturday morning and you could always tell if a convoy had come in, and what it brought to us, because everybody on the street would have one. I remember one Saturday everybody came with a mop. Another Saturday everybody had a dishpan. As far as food went, we faired pretty well because we all had victory gardens. One funny thing though, the only vegetable we had in the war was rutabagas and we had a lot of jokes about that. I remember one sister saying that rutabagas were always her favorite fruit. For my part, I was happy they weren't turnips...

"There was a rule during the war that we had to have our identification card and our gas masks with us at all times. So on school days the first thing we had to do in the morning was to check to see that our children had their gas masks and identification cards. Anyone who came without these had to go home to get them.

"At this time I taught catechism at Waipahu since there was no school there yet. This meant I had to pass Pearl Harbor at least twice a week. There were mounds of debris all along the highway and every few feet there was a sign that said 'Absolutely no Cameras Allowed Here.' I have never seen a picture of all the wreckage along the side of the highway. I remember it was June before we saw the first sign of a ship being raised and that was the Oklahoma. I remember them saying from the marks on the wall that they could tell that the boys lived on that ship underwater until almost Christmas. We knew the chaplain on that ship, Father Schmidt. He wasn't one that got off. Some of the boys were pushed through a porthole to safety on December 7th, but Father Schmidt didn't make it. So, later when I heard that those boys were under water all that time my only consolation was that Father Schmidt was down there with them. He must have been some comfort to them.

"I don't think we can ever realize what our poor boys went through on that December 7th morning. Those who survived had to swim through burning water to shore. The following week when we'd see them in town, you could see all the layers of skin on their faces because their faces were burned. In school when we learned that so many people had been killed in battle I somehow never envisioned the corpses, but here we had first hand sight of it. All day long large army trucks passed in front of our house on School Street. I kept thinking 4 times 5 are 20, (4 across, 5 high) were 20 bodies taken to a nearby cemetery. All the Navy casualties were buried near Pearl Harbor at a place we called Red Hill. However, all the casualties from the Army were taken to a neighboring cemetery of ours, Nuuanu Cemetery. These places were just for temporary burial because eventually all would be buried in the Punch Bowl Crater which was being prepared and became a beautiful cemetery for the military.

"One Sunday afternoon Father took us to visit Nuuanu Cemetery. There we saw the long trenches they had dug, and they must have had those boxes close to one another because every few feet there would be a stick with a dog tag on it. Some families sent for the remains of their loved ones. All the rest were buried in Punch Bowl Crater when it was ready."

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