Meanwhile, at Pearl, off its Ford Island anchorage rested the mighty US warships of Battleship Row, itself an unaware prime target of a powerful Imperial Japanese Navy/IJN carrier task force already steaming secretly on its deadly way there, hell bent on sinking them all. It almost did, too!
The two privates practiced with their new unit daily from 7 AM-4 PM, but after Washington’s alert of Nov. 27, 1941 that the Japanese might strike somewhere in the Pacific, they went on duty from 4-7 AM instead.
This was because the top brass felt that these were the critical hours when the anchored fleet might be attacked by an enemy everyone now expected that the US would one day fight: Imperial Japan.
Their Opana Station site was one of five such, and the six men who ran it were left pretty much to themselves.
They had a small camp at Kawaiola, nine miles down the coast, and commuted daily to their duty location via pickup truck.
They were meant to work in three-man shifts, but this particular Sunday, they decided that a two-person shift would do just as well instead.
Lockard served as operator, with Elliott as both plotter and motorman, the regular motorman being allowed to sleep in late that day.
The officer to whom they’d report by field telephone that day of all days was Army Lt. Kermit Tyler, and all three men would play fateful parts that Day of Infamy, as President Franklin D. Roosevlt so famously termed it on the 8th, the current writer’s birthday, and also the very last time that the United States has declared war on any nation formally---really!.
Blaine Taylor (1946-) authored and fully illustrated with maps and photographs a special commemorative international magazine issue on Pearl Harbor published by Starlog Publications for the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1991.
What happened next has been well-described by Baltimore’s own late and world famous historian Walter Lord (1917-2002)--whom I met when he was an Honorary Colonel of the Ft. McHenry Guard---in his 1957 best-selling book, Day of Infamy.
“At 7:02 AM, (Pvt. George) Elliott sat down and began fiddling with the (radar) controls. (Pvt. Joseph) Lockard leaned over his shoulder, and started explaining the various echoes or blips.
“Suddenly, a blip flashed on the screen far bigger than anything than Lockard had ever seen before. He shoved Elliott aside, and took over the controls himself.
“Quickly, he saw that there was nothing wrong with the set---it was just a huge flight of planes!
“At 7:06, Elliott tried the headphones that connected directly with one of the spotters in the Information Center. The line was dead…he finally got through to the… switchboard operator, Pvt. Joseph McDonald.
“McDonald took the message to the lieutenant. Helpfully, he explained that it was the first time he had ever received anything like this…’Do you think we ought to do something about it?’
“’Hey, Mac!’ (Lockard) protested when McDonald told him that the lieutenant said everything was all right. Then Lockard asked to speak directly to the lieutenant, (Kermit) Tyler.
“…Tyler…remembered that the (US) carriers were out…there might be (US) Navy planes…These also might be (US Army Air Corps) Flying Fortresses.
“In either case, the planes were friendly.
“Cutting short any further discussion, he told Lockard, ‘Well, don’t worry about it.’”
Continuing 16 years later, Lord wrote that, “Pvt. McDonald was still uneasy… and as (he) left the building, he suddenly stuck the original Opana message in his pocket.”
My own take on this aspect of it is that an enlisted man was wisely safeguarding himself versus the officer’s word later on if it came to that, and might’ve, too, as we’ll see.
“He’d never done anything like this before, but he wanted to show it to the fellows …Alone again in the plotting room, Lt. Tyler… had no qualms about the Opana message.
“Although he didn’t know it---on one count at least, he (Lt. Tyler) was absolutely right---some B-17s were coming in from the mainland. At this very moment, 12 of the big bombers were approaching from the northeast.
“But the planes that showed upon the Opana screen were a little less to the east, far more numerous, and at this moment infinitely closer.
“Japanese Cdr. Mitsuo Fuchida knew they must be nearly there---they’d been in the air now almost an hour and a half…”
In his 1962 book---But Not in Shame: The Six Months After Pearl Harbor---the now late author John Toland (whom I met at the US National Archives at Washington, DC in 1976) added this scene.
“By now, Elliott had already located the blip on the plotting board: 137 miles to the north, three degrees east.
“He excitedly suggested they telephone the reading to…(Army) Ft. Shafter. Lockard disagreed. Their problem, he said, was over at 7 AM. Elliott persisted…”
After he talked with Lt. Tyler, they duly shut down the unit.
“By now,” Toland rejoined, “the 183 planes of the first wave of attackers from the Pearl Harbor Striking Force were already racing down the northwestern coast of Oahu…”
For those moviegoers who have seen both versions of the films---the 1970 Tora/Tora! Tora! and the 2001 remake Pearl Harbor--each of these scenes is fully and well- depicted.
The latter film starred Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnet, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Voight as FDR, and Alec Baldwin among others. Blaine Taylor (1946-) authored and fully illustrated with maps and photographs a special commemorative international magazine issue on Pearl Harbor published by Starlog Publications for the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1991. Taylor was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii with the US Army’s famed 25th Infantry Division Tropic Lightning in 1965, scene of Japanese naval air force strafing on Dec. 7, 1941. “I put my fingers in the bullet holes of the walls of our barracks, just as they had been left there 24 years before.”