Jan 3, 1941
The first thing Sunday morning after breakfast I heard a plane diving, I thought little of it at the time because the sky is always full of Army planes. We are stationed here next to Hickam field and are used to hearing and seeing practice dog fights over head. I thought it was a practice attack and paid little attention, until some one said “look there is a hell of a lot of strange looking planes up there.”
They were diving from a very high altitude and what I thought was one or two planes turned out to be many times more than that. We still thought they were ours and stopped to watch what they were up to.
Just then, I saw bombs leave the belly of the leading planes. I ran for the barracks of our men and yelled “air raid” as loud as I could just as all hell broke loose. The men didn’t believe me at first, but just about then a bomb whistled to earth nearby and the concussion of the ensuing explosion was terrific; that was all that was needed.
Most of our men were lying in their bunks only halfed dressed, they didn’t bother to dress, they grabbed what was handy and scooted.
I saw the first bomb hit… It was too close for comfort. It hit directly in the center of the soldiers dining hall on Hickam Field. The men were at breakfast so you can imagine what happened.
One moment it was a beautiful building the next second it was a mass of flaming wreckage. It was such a total surprise. I was too surprised to be scared at first.
We all knew there was work to do so we started and, believe me you, I have never seen men go to work so hard and fast and with such cool deliberation. Machine guns were mounted and manned in a very few seconds. The sky was soon full of hot lead from the Anti Aircraft batteries.
I started towards the barracks and hangers, just then I saw a Jap plane come screaming down in flames – it crashed nearby. Those damned Japs would dive and drop their bombs then turn and machine gun us. We seemed to get more angry every minute. I think the anger counteracted our fear.
We started loading men into ambulances and trucks. And, Bud, what I saw makes me hope that if I am ever hit by a 50 caliber machine gun slug that it gets me in the head or heart. They simply tear you to pieces. One man was lying on the ground with the lower half of his right leg just a mass of shredded bones and meat.
We rendered first aid just as fast as we could to all those who we could do anything for. God it was awful.
The Japs kept coming – it seemed like they came over in waves about every 20 minutes or half hour. Their first attack had been a costly one in planes. But by the time of the second and third raids, some of our planes were in the air and boy did our boys make it hot for those Jap “sons of bs,–” They were shooting them down like flys.
We saw one of our boys tangle in a terrific dog fight which would end with the Jap plane plummeting to the ground in flames. It wasn’t long before our boys had all of those who weren’t shot down on the run.
One of the most spectacular things I have ever seen, and something which I will never forget, was the first destroyer which left the harbor to pursue the enemy.
Ships leaving the harbor pass within 200 yards of us here. As this destroyer left the harbor every gun was manned and the air above her and all around her was filled with the flames from her guns.
She was going full speed which is plenty of knots. For a moment or two I thought her wake would cause damage to our boats at the dock, but a large dredge lying just off the dock broke up the swells and little or no damage resulted.
A moment or two later we got our torpedo or Mosquito fleet under way and they headed to sea at full speed. As each ship of our fleet passed us headed to sea to find the enemy, our men would let go with a loud cheer.
Believe me, you folks on the mainland can well be proud of the men in the armed forces out here. Every man pitched in with everything he had. Great numbers of them gave their lives. I lost several very good friends as many others did but there wasn’t a man who stopped or hesitated.
We were caught napping but there is no crying over spilt milk. We all know we have a job to do and that is to pay back double, no treble for every bit of damage they did in their yellow sneak raid. And believe me you can’t force a man to quit his job, every man is determined to stick until the Yellow Sons of the Sinking Sun are smashed.
We don’t expect to do it in any fortnight, we know now the Japs are powerful, but if it takes a lifetime we shant quit until the job is done.
The morale of the men here has never been higher, although we have to live under restrctions. I haven’t heard of a man complain. There is no crying about the raid. In fact there are many stories about the humorous things that hapened during the raid which has given us many a laugh.
I saw a man go into the bombardment squadron barracks. He had just disappeared from sight when somewhere in the building a bomb exploded and he was blown out through a screened window he was standing near. He just sat there and rubbed his head then looked up and said “God, what lousy hospitality.”
On one of the battleships, the Anti Aircraft batteries were rendered useless. The captain ordered the men to run to the spud lockers and get sacks of spuds. He then joined the men in throwing spuds at the enemy planes as they swooped low to machine gun the decks. They threw spuds until the ship started to capsize and the order to abandon ship was given.
I wonder why there is humor in every tragedy.
The lesson we learned here is one you folks there can well profit from. You may think it foolish to have to stand lookouts on the beach, etc. but it’s not. We thought no-one would dare attack such a well fortified place such as this, so we got sort of lax in our look-outs and patrols. Ammunition wasn’t ready etc.
It won’t happen again, which we proved that Sunday night when enemy bombers tried to sneak back for another raid. They didn’t get to drop a single bomb before our guns got their range and finished them off..
We have had several alarms since then; either the enemy never got this far or it was sounded for some other reason. We all know that they will probably be back, but boy are we ready for them, and believe me you, they shall never surprise us again.
I guess I was lucky to get through it with my life. It isn’t the enemy bullet with my number on it that worries me, it’s the one that’s sent “to whom it may conern.” Never fear, though. I’ll be back there before you know it – beating your pants off of you in pinochle.
At the time of this letter, Kenneth Bracken was a 28 year old sailor, posted to the Small Craft Disbursing Office at Bishops Point, Oahu, Hawaii. November 24, 1943, he was on board the USS Liscome Bay when it was torpedoed and sunk following the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
Out of 912 crew members, my Dad was one of 272 survivors.
The above is excerpted out of a letter he wrote to good friends a month after the attack on Pearl.