I grew up in Hawaii as a kid.
I grew up in Hawaii as a kid. Specifically, thanks to my dad’s career in the Marine Corps, I grew up at Kaneohe Bay, an air station that we used to call K-Bay for short.
Now, the base holds Marine Corps Base Hawaii as its official title. All I knew as a kid was that it was officially fun. I enjoyed everything about the base — the weather, the proximity to the beach, and the big hills that were perfect for skateboarding. K-Bay holds my first memory of having friends, another reason why I hated to leave the place when my dad got transferred to Cherry Point.
As an elementary school kid, I lacked knowledge of what took place there on Dec. 7, 1941. It came into complete view in 2010 when I took a return visit to the place I grew up, a place with an old building that still had bullet holes from when Japan launched its attack on Oahu.
Yes, Pearl Harbor gets all the attention, but Japan attacked a number of bases on that morning, including Kaneohe, which was actually hit minutes before the first torpedoes dropped into Pearl Harbor. Today, there are a couple of memorials at K-Bay to honor the 20 people killed on the base during the attack.
Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack in Hawaii that drew the United States into World War II. By now, everyone knows of Pearl Harbor, the reasons behind it, the ships that were destroyed and the lives that were lost — all of which I had no knowledge of as a child playing on the beach just about a mile from K-Bay’s runway and hangars.
I have learned much more about the attack, some of it from first-hand accounts. But as time marches on, those first-hand accounts continue to dwindle. Our World War II veterans pass on, and with each one, we lose a link to that Greatest Generation to which we owe so much.
Tom Harriett is 96 now. He retired from Cherry Point where he was involved with some of the first Harrier jets ever brought to the air station. The Jones County native joined the Navy in 1939 to “see the world,” but he got a lot more than he bargained for aboard the USS St. Louis on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. He was about to read a newspaper when he heard a machine gun. He poked his head out of a port hole and saw two Japanese planes dropping torpedoes.
“I must have been white as a sheet,” he said.
The St. Louis avoided any direct hits. After all, the cruiser would not have been a main target, but it did have some damage from shrapnel and bullets, according to the ship’s official report from that day.
Harriett served about 10 years in the Navy and then went into civil service work at Cherry Point, retiring in 1975.
“We used to have reunions until about four or five years ago,” he said of Pearl Harbor survivors. “Now, there just are hardly any left.”
All the more reason to salute them while we still can. We owe them and all who serve a debt of gratitude — something lost on a kid playing on a Hawaiian beach but something so realized by an adult on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
Ken Buday is the editor and general manager of the Havelock News. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 635-5673.