Children who lived through attack remember Pearl Harbor.
HONOLULU | In some ways, it could be any class photo from the 1940s. The sepia-toned image shows 30 fifthgraders — 26 girls and four boys — at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Waikiki. Most are smiling, some look stern. A few have no shoes.
Yet this picture is different in one striking way: Each child is holding a bag containing a gas mask, a sign of how war had suddenly broke apart the routines of their adolescence on Dec. 7, 1941.
Three of the students, now in their mid-80s and all friends who have kept in touch over the years, reflected recently on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago and the mark it left on their childhoods.
Joan Martin Rodby remembered the carefree walks to school, and her family building an air raid shelter in their yard. Florence Seto, who is JapaneseAmerican, recalled sharing ice cream with Ms. Rodby, and being worried that her family would be taken away.
Emma Veary reminisced about her days singing, and her family covering the windows at night so Japanese pilots couldn’t use the light of homes to guide them.
On the morning of Dec. 7, a Sunday, Japanese bombers flew across Oahu and began their assault. Some children climbed onto the roofs of homes to see what was happening. The planes were so close to the ground in some cases that they could make out the Rising Sun insignia.
Soon, smoke rose over the water, about 10 miles from Ms. Veary’s home near Waikiki.
Ms. Veary, then 11, climbed atop a neighbor’s house. Back then, Waikiki didn’t have any high-rise hotels and condominiums to block the view, so she could see all the way to the naval base. Her parents yelled at her to get down as soon as they heard about the attack.
Ms. Seto, who lived a few blocks away near homes belonging to Navy families, remembered a neighbor rushing out of her home, screaming about how the Japanese, using an epithet common at the time, had attacked Pearl Harbor.
The young Ms. Seto ran home, and, using the same word, told her parents, both immigrants from Japan.
“That didn’t go over too well,” she said.
The attack killed more than 2,300 people, nearly half of them on the battleship USS Arizona. More than 1,100 were injured. After the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech before Congress, calling Dec. 7 a “date which will live in infamy.” The U.S. declared war against Japan.
Ms. Veary, Ms. Seto and Ms. Rodby suddenly found themselves living in a war zone, as an ever-present worry about a Japanese invasion permeated life in their island home.
About a month or two after the attack, Ms. Rodby and her classmates were issued gas masks. Ms. Rodby, who was 10 at the time, remembers being tested on how quickly she could don the mask. If an air raid siren went off, they had to be able to put the masks on in seconds.
The children put their gas masks around the backs of their chairs while in class. When playing outside, they kept them in a set spot so they could grab them right away.
“It was like an extra arm we had to have all the time,” Ms. Rodby said.
Joan Rodby points to herself in a 1942 photo, in Makawao, Hawaii. After the Pearl Harbor attack, schools required students to carry gas masks with them at all times — even when posing for their class photo.