The day that lived in infamy

For three sunshine-filled years, we were lucky enough to call Hawaii home. The house that we lived in was built in 1939, in anticipation of the influx of families to Hickam Field. When we first moved in, we noticed something amiss in the wall by our bay window in the living room. It’s the one time that I was grateful housing didn’t fix something. The base historian met with me and gave me a copy of the story of the family that had lived in our house on that fateful day, 75 years ago. This was written by Mrs. Tafel before she passed away in 2003.

This is the story of Mrs. Anne Catherine Ferraro Will Tafel.

Remembering Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941, by Anne Tafel

My husband, Lt. Joe Orr Will, Jr., graduated from flight school at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas (my hometown), in May 1940. We were married in June. His first assignment was Wheeler Field in Hawaii. Several months later, he was sent to Hickam Field to be a bomber pilot. In a few months, his quarters were completed and we moved to the base. We lived at 103A Signer Boulevard, about two blocks from the Officers Club and the Pearl Harbor Channel.

In late November 1941, Joe’s squadron was sent to Hamilton Field, California, to bring back B-17 bombers for delivery to the Philippines. He had not returned by December 7, 1941. I was along and four months pregnant with our first child. On that day, at 7:56 a.m., I was awakened by loud explosions. My first thought was, “Maneuvers at Pearl Harbor-on Sunday?” I went to get the paper, no paper! (I learned later that the presses had broken down the night before and there were no papers that day). I could see black smoke coming from Pearl Harbor, so I walked around to the back drive. Looking toward Pearl Harbor I saw, flying very low, a small plane with a large red rising sun on the side. Realizing that we were under attack, I hurriedly went indoors. I was angry, feeling we had been betrayed. Surely our government knew the Japanese were that close!

I kept hearing loud explosion after explosion! Smoke filled the air like dense fog. Noises came from the front of our quarters in the area of the Hickam flight line, hangers, and barracks; from the rear — Pearl Harbor. I could hear bombs, machine guns, and the whine of diving airplanes. I dressed hurriedly and went next door where Lt. John Sullivan (Ground Officer), his wife, Hope (Yeaman) and their infant daughter lived. He pulled the metal dining table against the wall, told us to get under and stay there! By this time, we had been joined by Adele Moores, whose husband, Lt. Bud Moores, was at Hamilton Field with my husband. We knew that some of the B-17s were due to arrive that day, but we had no information as to who it would be!

John left, but returned shortly. He asked me, since I was a nurse, if I would go to the hospital as they were very short of help. The hospital was new and not very large, approximately 50 beds. I got my car and went to hospital right away. Due to the damage and chaos, I had to leave my car on the side of the road with the keys in the ignition. Days later, when my husband returned from the states, the car was still there.

The hospital was bedlam with hundreds of wounded along with the dead – all these wounded for fewer than fifty beds! The severely wounded were sent to Tripler Hospital; the corpses stacked in the halls. We all did what we could for the injured – mostly first aid. We were so busy, we lost all track of time.

Late that afternoon, John returned to tell me that women were being evacuated from the base. He had arranged to have his wife, daughter, Adele, three other women and me taken to his wife’s parents’ home, just outside of Honolulu. He took me back to my quarters where I packed a very small bag. As I was leaving, I noticed a bullet hole in the top of the bay window in the living room. I could see that the bullet had crossed the living room and dining room, grazed a small carved Oriental wood chest (which I still have), and lodged in the wall about 12 inches from the floor. We left the area by jeep.

We were taken to Hope’s parents’, the Yeamans, where we were treated like honored guests. The next morning, Adele and I went into Honolulu where we waited in line for hours to send cables. Mine read, “Safe at Yeamans.”

In the next couple of months, most of the military wives and children returned to the states. Women whose pregnancies were near term were kept in Honolulu, where a maternity hospital was set up in a private downtown school. Being a nurse, I was allowed to stay in Hawaii and was asked to work in this “hospital”. I did so until they were out of patients

Joe’s squadron returned to Hickam about ten days after the attack. Two other women and I rented a house in downtown Honolulu (on the Ala Wai) where we lived in complete blackout at night. Joe stayed at Hickam and came in whenever possible. Our daughter was born May 1, 1942.

In late December ’42, Joe left for the South Pacific. My daughter and I left on the same day in a convoy–we zigged and zagged our way to San Francisco to avoid encounters with submarines.

For his service during the war, Joe was awarded both the Air Medal and the Silver Cross. After Joe returned from the South Pacific, he was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, and after due promotions became a Major. It was here that our son, Joe III, was born in June 1945. W went to Godman Field at Fort Knox, KY in 1946 and Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama in 1947, where he attended Command and Staff School. In June 1948, we went to Walker Air Force Base near Roswell, New Mexico. On August 12, 1948, Joe was killed on take-off in a B-29. I was told that the plane had been overloaded.

I returned to his hometown of Louisville, KY with our then six-year old daughter and three-year old son. Three years later, I married Paul Tafel, Jr., a retired Marine officer who had also flown in the South Pacific during the war. He died of cancer in 1986.

I have been back to Hawaii and Hickam several times and hope to be there December 7, 1991.

–Anne F. Tafel

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