The 25th Infantry Division on December 7, 1941
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy” –President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Introduction: The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other military installations on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on December 7th 1941 has been well documented and described in numerous official and other authoritative publications over the years since its occurrence. However little or no detail can be found in these publications of what specifically occurred during the attack at Schofield Barracks and to the units of the 25th Infantry Division located elsewhere on Oahu.
What follows is an effort undertaken by the 25th Infantry Division Association to more fully describe the attack on Schofield Barracks and the 25th Infantry Division. Historical information in the first part of this report comes from what original US Army documents of that day are on file at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland as well as other authoritative and relevant documentation and publications. John Keliher, Association historian researched and compiled the information found at the National Archives and other historical sources.
Of great value and interest are personal eyewitness accounts of that fateful Sunday by the Soldiers who were there. The Association is deeply grateful for the tremendous response to our request for eye-witness accounts for inclusion in this report. Highlights from these accounts make up the second part of this report. Special recognition and appreciation of their efforts go to Association members Milton Joseph Carter who collected and collated the eyewitness accounts and to the writing of David McDonald who compiled, edited and consolidated them into a chronologically narrative format. All of the original eye-witness accounts submitted will be placed in the Association’s archive collection located at the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia.
The Association considers this report to be an open document to be added to as additional historical documentation is acquired and/or when additional eyewitness accounts that provide new information are received.
Japanese Attack Planning: In planning for the attack, the Japanese recognized that in order to protect the bombers and torpedo planes attacking the Navy ships in Pearl Harbor that the US Army fighter planes primarily located at Wheeler Field, would have to be neutralized. Wheeler Field, located directly adjacent to Schofield Barracks, was at that time the largest fighter base on Oahu with 45 of the older P36 and 99 of the new P40 fighter aircraft located there. At the time of the attack the fighter squadrons of the Army’s Hawaiian Air Force was transitioning from the older P36 to the P40.
Schofield Barracks was not a primary target. If the Japanese had intended to invade Oahu with ground forces on December 7, 1941, Schofield Barracks with its thousands of Soldiers whose mission was to defend Oahu would have had a much higher priority in Japanese planning. However Schofield was only lightly attacked which in retrospect indicated there would be no invasion that Sunday. But reasonable concern persisted for months thereafter that the Japanese might attempt an invasion of Oahu.
American Defense Planning: While it was true that the US military was caught by surprise on December 7, it is not correct to conclude that such an attack was not anticipated and prepared for with defensive planning. In fact the Army’s Hawaiian Department had developed comprehensive defense plans that were refined and practiced over the years to respond to various types of attacks on Oahu from the air and sea to include a land invasion. Under the defense plans of 1941 there were three stages of alert. Alert Level 1 was designed to protect critical military and civilian installations from sabotage, Alert Level 2 was designed to defend against a sea and air bombardment and Alert Level 3 was to defend Oahu against an all-out air, sea and land attack. The Hawaiian Department had conducted full and partial exercises over the years of the various elements of the defense plan to include defending against an air attack with both fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft artillery and the quick movement of ground forces from Schofield to pre-designated defense positions on the beaches of Oahu.
However, on November 27 1941 reacting on messages from the War Department emphasizing the need to take careful precautions against sabotage and assuming there would at least four hours warning of an approaching attack force from the Navy, the commander of the Hawaiian Department ordered all Army units to Alert 1 status which was an anti-sabotage configuration. As events proved, there had been no need to adopt an anti-sabotage configuration as no sabotage subsequently occurred before, during or after the attack.
The Army had constructed some 125 dispersed 10 foot tall earthen revetments at Wheeler to protect the fighter aircraft from air attack. For the anti-sabotage alert and over the objections of the Wheeler commander the fighter aircraft at Wheeler were taken out of their earthen revetments and were grouped in the open on parking aprons wingtip to wingtip without ammunition. Also the 98th Coast Artillery Regiment charged with the mission of anti-aircraft protection for Wheeler and Schofield was required to leave its anti-aircraft ammunition in central storage bunkers resulting in that no Army anti-aircraft fire except from small-arms was available to greet the attackers as they struck at Wheeler and Schofield.
The Japanese Attack: Approaching from the east at approximately at 0800 hours on December 7th the Japanese attacked Wheeler Field employing 25 Aichi Type 99 Val dive bombers from the aircraft carrier Zuikaku each carrying a 250 kilogram general purpose bomb. They were accompanied by 14 Mitsubishi Zero fighters from the aircraft carriers Soryu and Hiryu to provide air cover for the Vals.
The Japanese dive bombers made an initial attack run dive bombing on Wheeler from low altitudes on the parked aircraft, the hangers and the barracks inflicting heavy damage and casualties of thirty-six killed and seventy-four wounded. The Vals then circled back and made a strafing run on the airfield joined by the Zeros. Forty of the P40s were totally destroyed in the attack. Thick black smoke from the destroyed P40s obscured the parked P36s from the air, consequently only six were destroyed. But approximately fifty aircraft were seriously damaged or were already out of commission due to lack of parts leaving only twenty-seven P40s and sixteen P36s flyable.
As the Japanese aircraft finished their strafing runs on Wheeler they flew over Schofield Barracks at low altitudes strafing the Engineer, Infantry and Artillery quadrangles, as well as certain officer’s quarters and the post hospital inflicting some structural damage as well as personnel casualties both killed and wounded. Either two errant Japanese bombs or US Navy anti-aircraft shells struck Schofield. One hit a corner of the Engineer quadrangle and one hit the parade ground in front of the Commanding General’s quarters causing no casualties.
At both Schofield and at other locations the 25th Infantry Division suffered a total of two killed and seventeen wounded according to available documents from the National Archives. Most Schofield casualties occurred in the Artillery quadrangles which received the brunt of the strafing. Private Walter R. French, 89th Field Artillery Battalion became the 25th Infantry Division’s first Soldier to be killed in action in WWII. The 89th Field Artillery Battalion also suffered five wounded and the 8th Field Artillery Battalion had four wounded. The 35th Infantry Regiment had three wounded. The 27th Infantry Regiment and the 325th Quartermaster Battalion each had one wounded.
Away from Schofield, Private Tarao Migita of the 298th Infantry Regiment was killed in Honolulu by an errant navy anti-aircraft shell. The 298th Infantry Regiment and the 65th Engineer Battalion each had one wounded at two other locations.
The 24th Infantry Division suffered one killed and nine wounded, seven of which occurred in the Artillery quadrangles. Corporal Theodore J. Lewis, 63rd Field Artillery Battalion became the 24th Infantry Division’s first Soldier to be killed in action in WWII. Japanese planes also strafed the adjacent town of Wahiawa killing two civilians and wounding nine.
The American Response: With Wheeler Field under heavy attack precluding any American aircraft from taking off, seven pilots drove to a dirt auxiliary air strip at Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu. Here were located three P40s and four P36s. The aircraft were fueled and armed and were quickly airborne. These Army pilots engaged and shot down eight, possibly nine Japanese aircraft.
After the first wave attack ended seven pilots in P36s and one P40 managed to take off from Wheeler. They pursued the departing enemy, shooting down two aircraft while losing one of their own. At 0930 hours nine Zeros that had attacked Bellows Field as part of the second wave attack made a strafing run on Wheeler and Schofield as they were heading back to their carriers. Tragically one of the Haleiwa P36 pilots who had shot down two enemy aircraft was inadvertently shot down and killed by ground fire as he flew low over Schofield. By 1000 hours Japanese aircraft were departing the skies over Oahu.
Division units in the field had live ammunition and used it in firing at the attacking planes. Major General Maxwell Murray, Commanding General of the 25th Division, had the foresight to secure permission of the Hawaiian Department to allow the units of the division at Schofield to store small arms ammunition in the company-level arms rooms to facilitate movement to the field in case of a full alert. In some units this enabled highly motivated personnel to draw weapons and ammunition to return the fire of the strafing aircraft from the ground and from the quadrangle roof tops. As Japanese aircraft flew over they were met with a combination of ground fire from light machine guns, rifles and even pistols. It was believed that at least one possibly two Japanese aircraft that crashed in Wahiawa were brought down by this ground fire.
Available official documents show that at least three soldiers were decorated by the 25th Division for bravery during the attack. As depicted in the movie From Here to Eternity by the actor Burt Lancaster, Technical Sergeant William O. Gower, 27th Infantry took a machine gun and ammunition to the roof of the 27th Infantry quadrangle and engaged strafing aircraft, at first cradling it in his left arm, then mounting it on a tripod. He remained on the roof throughout the attack. Another 27th Infantry soldier, Corporal Edmond F. Lynagh, also mounted a machine gun and although wounded remained to direct his squad in firing at the Japanese aircraft until the attack was over. Staff Sergeant Irwin W. Krambeck, 8th Field Artillery Battalion standing in the open in the Division Artillery quadrangle took the enemy aircraft under fire with a Springfield rifle. All three received the Purple Heart which at that time was awarded for meritorious acts as well as for wounds.
Defense of Oahu: Under the Oahu defense plan the 24th Infantry Division had responsibility for the northern half of Oahu and the 25th Infantry Division had responsibility for the southern half of Oahu including Pearl Harbor and Honolulu. The 27th Infantry Regiment was responsible for the southeast portion of Oahu including Honolulu. The 35th Infantry Regiment had the defense of Pearl Harbor, the southwest and western portion of Oahu and the 298th Infantry Regiment the eastern shore of Oahu. The Hawaiian Department went to Alert Level 3 as the attack occurred and as early as 0930 units of both divisions began quickly moving to their assigned defense sectors.
With the possibility of a Japanese invasion, the first order of business was to quickly construct permanent beach fortification including pillboxes and revetments as well as stringing thousands of yards of barbed wire on the beaches. Because a goodly portion of the defensive positions were on private land the Army had been unable to construct more permanent defensive fortifications at these locations. No such restrictions existed after the attack and an intense effort was undertaken to improve fortifications covering likely amphibious landing sites. Besides manning the beach defenses the units of the 25th Division also guarded key non-military installations on the southern half of Oahu as well as aided in the enforcement of the Martial Law that had been put into effect after war was declared.
Evacuation of Dependants: Of additional concern was providing protection for the some twenty thousand women and children who were military dependants of service personnel stationed on Oahu. Fearing additional air attacks on Schofield and Wheeler and shortly after the Schofield units had deployed to their defensive positions, buses and trucks evacuated Schofield families to schools, hotels and homes in Honolulu and some to homes in the hills of Wahiawa.
The difficulty of caring for the dependents in these locations led to their early return to Schofield which was followed by the prompt decision to evacuate all dependents back to the Mainland who were not residents of the Territory of Hawaii. However organizing such a major evacuation was time-consuming. Not only were the dependents to be evacuated but their household goods, pets and automobiles needed to be sent back as well. While the evacuation process was being set up and as their husbands and fathers manned the island’s defenses, the families lived under austere conditions in their quarters faced with the rationing of foodstuffs and gasoline, mail censorship, restricted telephone use, a dusk to dawn curfew, nightly blackouts, slit trenches in their yards and air raid drills. Only a few dependents left Schofield prior to January 1942. But most were gone by late April 1942. Despite a threat of Japanese submarines all convoys of dependents arrived safely at West Coast ports.
Preparation for Offensive Combat: With the American victory over the Japanese fleet at Midway on 7 June 1942, the threat of an invasion of Oahu was reduced. Also by then significant Army reinforcements had arrived from the Mainland. This allowed the 25th Division units to devote more time in preparing for offensive combat while still maintaining their Oahu defense mission. On 1 November 1942 the 25th was officially relieved of its defense mission and returned to Schofield to undertake intense preparations to include jungle warfare and amphibious assault training to prepare for combat in the south Pacific. On 25 November 1942 the first elements of the 25th Infantry Division set sail for Guadalcanal; not to return to Schofield Barracks until two wars and twelve years later.
Part 2: EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTS
Members of the 25th Infantry Division who were eyewitness to history made on that disastrous day relate below their memories of the time during the attack, as well as the times prior and following. Individual ranks shown are as of December 7, 1941. Most advanced to higher ranks either as non-commissioned or commissioned officers during World War II.
As described herein these Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division were well trained to take defensive actions within the scope of the plans for defending Oahu against enemy ground forces landing on the beaches. Most of its members had served in the Hawaiian Division and had participated in frequent practice alerts. As it was a Sunday most were off-duty and some were off-post on pass or leave. All were totally surprised on this peaceful Sunday morning when the sounds and sights of war shattered the silence.
Corporal Steve Rula, company clerk in Company C, 27th Infantry didn’t get too excited about an alert on November 27, 1941 that sent them to the field. But this alert was different. For the first time they were issued live ammo. Company C set up camp in tents near Ft. Shafter. The unit was assigned to guard the municipal water works, Hawaiian Electric power plant, railway station, and Honolulu docks against sabotage. On the morning of December 7, 1941 Corporal Rula, like many other Soldiers, was in the chow line when he noticed what he thought was the Navy taking anti-aircraft practice. Sergeant Earl T. Kirk a former artilleryman yelled, “Practice hell, practice shells make white smoke — that’s black!” Breakfast was over — the war was on.
Living in tents in the hills, building concrete machine gun emplacements, and spreading barbed wire for months prior to the attack is what heavy mortar section leader Sergeant Clem S. Seroski of Company H, 35th Infantry remembers doing. All part of a defensive strategy for Oahu focused on repelling an amphibious assault. At 7:00 a.m. on the morning of the attack Seroski was preparing to go on an armed motor patrol with machine guns mounted on vehicles and live ammo. When the bombs began dropping he was ordered to return fire. Random fire at Japanese planes produced no known hits. The patrol was cancelled to “await further orders”. They were sent to defend Wheeler Field later that day.
Private First Class Walter C. Porter, a rifleman in Company C, 27th Infantry was in Honolulu on anti-sabotage duty armed with a shotgun. He had just returned to a rest area. At 0700 on December 7th he was preparing to go out again on an armed patrol. One hour later he was ordered to return fire on the Japanese planes. Company B, 27th Infantry was also set up on the Honolulu waterfront to conduct anti-sabotage duty. Private First Class Donald Burrows, the company bugler, was just coming off guard duty at the Mutual Telephone Company. Returning to the Command Post he heard a bugler to his west sound the “Call to Arms”. Every bugler hearing it is ordered to repeat the call. He grabbed his bugle and was about to repeat when a new young officer in charge told him to put the bugle down until the phone rings with orders from higher up. “Consequently”, says Burrows, “no outfit east of us heard the Call to Arms.”
Company A, 27th Infantry was also on anti-sabotage duty in Honolulu. The Company Commander 1st Lieutenant Harold F. Brunschwein and 99 of the 128 men in his company were camped in a park near Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. They had sufficient arms and ammunition to deter possible sabotage, but not to resist an enemy amphibious assault. The 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry commander ordered Lieutenant Brunschwein to double the guard and send a vehicle to pick up additional ammunition. The First Sergeant was dispatched to Schofield to bring back the rest of the company and a truckload of ammunition.
All of the units that were on duty in defensive positions around Pearl Harbor and Honolulu during the attack were suddenly and perilously in harms way themselves from strafing and shrapnel from enemy bombs and errant navy anti-aircraft artillery shells. They could only watch as the U.S. Navy ships were damaged and sunk by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes. They witnessed Hickam Field, home of Army Air Corps heavy bombers, taking a similar pounding. Hangars and planes on the ground were being destroyed and people were dying. Feelings of helplessness, horror, and anger were expressed by many witnessing the carnage and destruction.
1st Lieutenant George F. Carter the 90th Field Artillery Battalion Motor and Ammunition Officer writes in his WWII memoirs (paraphrasing) of leading his ammunition train of about twelve 2-1/2-ton trucks all day and night from the ammunition magazines to his battalion’s defensive positions. One driver, Private Judy, exemplified the spirit of the men by driving, without relief and uncomplaining, with a recently broken arm. On one run that night to Aliamanu Crater near Ft. Shafter in total blackout conditions, we were struck by the full impact of what had happened to the fleet. The battleship Arizona, burning from end to end with half collapsed main mast, along with other ships ablaze, lit up the evening sky and the harbor like it was daylight. Many other seriously damaged ships sat on the bottom of the shallow harbor with hulls and superstructures protruding above the waterline. Another mighty battleship, the Oklahoma, was capsized. Certainly hundreds had died, writes Lieutenant Carter.
Private First Class Philip K. H. Kam, a clerk-typist with the 65th Engineer Battalion Headquarters and Service Company was at home on pass. He was awakened at 0800 by the bombs exploding. PFC Kam drove through billowing smoke and flying shrapnel on Waipahu Rd. to report for duty. He was back at Schofield Barracks in 25 minutes.
On the eastern side of Oahu, Company B, 65th Engineer Battalion was in the field on a construction site near Kaneohe Naval Air Station. Most of the company was in Honolulu on pass. About 30 were in camp according to Corporal Camellus Cappelluzzo and Private Alwyn H. King both of whom had just finished breakfast when the Japanese planes swooped down on Kaneohe, home of the Navy’s PBY long range patrol aircraft. Hangers were destroyed, planes exploded on the runways, and smoke billowed. King says one Japanese plane dove down and strafed the path between the rows of their tents, “but he was a bad shot.” Company B was ordered back to Schofield to guard the motor pool. By morning on the next day, Dec. 8, they were in foxholes near Pearl Harbor.
Most of the 25th Division Soldiers at Schofield Barracks had just finished breakfast or were in the chow line when Japanese planes attacked Wheeler Field and then swept over Schofield strafing the quadrangles and other facilities. Some of the men were still in their bunks, others were getting dressed, or shaving. Some were on there way to church services—the usual Sunday morning activities. No where was the element of surprise made any more vivid than it was at Schofield.
27th Infantry members Private First Class Charles M. Earlywine and Private First Class Frederick H. Edinger of Company F, Private First Class Thomas F. Conlon of Company G and Private Chester J. Lukawty of Company L, were among those at breakfast. Edinger says he woke Acting First Sergeant Armstrong. They were issued weapons and ammo and Armstrong told them to get on the roof and return fire. In just a matter of minutes, Lukawty was on the roof with his BAR firing at the planes.
Private First Class Harry N. Stinley of Company D and Sergeant Roger L. Newcome of Company M, 35th Infantry were machine gunners. Stinley is one of several who said they had to “break the heavy padlock off” to get weapons and ammo out. Stinley said he thinks he “might have scored a hit on one of the planes.” First Sergeant Emile Matula, Sr. of Co. M also recalled that “we had to break in with axes”. Access to weapons and ammo was a problem in several units preventing a quick response to the attack. He states that the “NCOs took charge with solid performance under fire”. 1st Lieutenant Delbert E. Munson of Service Company, 35th Infantry was asleep when the attack began. Arriving at the Motor Pool he found no casualties, but the machine gun strafing had set four half-ton trucks on fire. He ordered all remaining trucks taken out and dispersed.
In the distance there were sounds and flashes of explosions. Machine gun bullets from the Japanese planes were striking the Quadrangle buildings. Return fire from machine guns and rifles on the rooftops and the ground joined the acrimonious noise of battle. There was no safe place. Private First Class Charles O. Clements of Headquarters Battery, 25th Division Artillery saw a very low flying plane firing on two of our soldiers who were running between Quadrangle buildings. Corporal Manlon A. Sawdey of Headquarters Battery, 8th Field Artillery reported being fired at while on his way to the Motor Pool. Private First Class Roland W. Nee also of Headquarters Battery, 8th Field Artillery was ordered from the mess hall to the Motor Pool to get the trucks and guns assembled to move out. Troops were ordered to set up defensive positions around the Motor Pool and return fire on the Japanese.
Over Wheeler Field the sky was filled with dark smoke and the sounds of the exploding bombs and of machine gun fire could be easily heard throughout Schofield Barracks. From the 3rd floor of the barracks Private Rene L. Provost of Company F, 35th Infantry could see bombs exploding and streaking tracers flying at Wheeler. Company E, 35th Infantry had moved out to a hillside where Private Marvin Moore saw the oil storage tanks at Wheeler bombed and exploding into columns of fire and smoke. Then 17 years old, Private Charles Powell of Battery B, 8th Field Artillery recalls his most vivid memory was seeing the Japanese planes dropping bombs and blowing up Wheeler. Private Herbert G. Hunt, Jr. of Company K, 27th Infantry snapped a photo with his Brownie Box camera of the smoke rising from Wheeler.
With no weapon or ammo issued to him, Corporal Albert W. L’Heureux, a truck driver with the rear detachment of Company B, 65th Engineer Battalion at Schofield was ordered to the motor pool to get a truck and drive to Wheeler to help transport the wounded to the Schofield hospital. Devastation greeted him there. L’Heureux recounted how rows of tents that were set up outside the hangers to house new troops were strafed as Wheeler was bombed. Bodies of the dead were taken on truck beds to the Schofield cemetery. After the attack some Company B personnel including Corporal Maurice A. Storck were sent to help defend the key road along the Pali cliffs through the mountains from the eastern side of Oahu to Honolulu with orders to blow it up if the Japanese invaded.
Within the Hell of the greater experience of combat there are many actions and events taking place. They are sometimes serious, sometimes humorous, but always an important part of the greater picture.
Sergeant Kenneth C. Nine, a platoon sergeant in Company F, 27th Infantry was sitting on the ground in front of the barracks when the Japanese planes came over Schofield. Sergeant Nine had been relieved of duty and was scheduled to return to the Mainland for reassignment on Monday, December 8, 1941. Sergeant Nine had been partying all night until 0500 with five others who were also “going home” on Monday. Nine says, “my Commanding Officer told me to get in the saddle because I wasn’t going anywhere”. Sergeant Nine was suddenly alert and ‘all soldier’ again–breaking the supply room doors, getting machine guns, weapons, and ammo, and heading for the roof top.
Intense desire to fight back and anger was evidenced by men futilely firing weapons at the Japanese planes—weapons that were not likely to bring the planes down. Corporal Bronsil L. Metz, a gunner in the 90th Field Artillery Battalion saw Captain Dailey firing his .45 caliber pistol at the planes as he was running across the parade ground. Sergeant Boyce Huson of the Division Headquarters and Military Police Company remembers seeing Private First Class Ledgerwood standing in the Quadrangle firing a Springfield rifle at attacking airplanes. 1st Lieutenant George F. Carter of the 90th Field Artillery Battalion relates the story of his Battery Commander “Pop” Warner running out of his house and standing on the lawn in his pajamas, firing his .45 caliber pistol at the Japanese planes.
On guard duty near the Ewa gate, Private Charles K. Day of the Division Headquarters and Military Police Company was ordered to return a work detail of prisoners to the Stockade. Traveling under the flight path of the attacking planes Day safely returned the prisoners. He recalled being on alert for 2 weeks—an alert that for him terminated the evening of Dec. 6th. Private Donald Hall of the same company tells of an officer from the Division Intelligence (G-2) section saying the planes were American until a burst of machine gun fire from one of the planes narrowly missed them.
1st Lieutenant John Fahey, Executive Officer, Battery C, 64th Field Artillery Battalion lived off-post in a rented house in Wahiawa with five other officers. The evening of December 6th was spent at the Officers Club’s weekly dance, followed by partying at home into the early morning hours. Sleeping soundly in the a.m. of Dec. 7th, the sound of explosions, walls trembling, and windows shivering didn’t get Fahey up. The yell “you guys, the Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor” had them all outside in seconds. The sight in the distance was of planes looking like a swarm of angry wasps circling and diving, bombs exploding, and ant-aircraft artillery bursts peppering the sky. Back inside radios were blaring, telephone ringing and all getting the message — “Alert Level Three (All Out) is in effect — Report for duty at once”. En route Fahey saw a Japanese pilot leaning out of the cockpit of a plane flying low overhead. In Wahiawa he saw a downed Japanese plane. He witnessed civilians crying and screaming after their bus had been strafed. At Schofield he found the barracks empty, drew a pistol and three clips of ammo then joined the rest of the battalion all loaded up and ready to roll.
An ammo handler and truck driver in the 90th Field Artillery’s Service Battery, Private Leon Cohen, remembers a Browning Automatic Rifleman wounding himself when he accidentally dropped his weapon which discharged. In his memoirs Lieutenant George F. Carter confirms the wounding of the BAR man during the attack on Schofield.
Corporal David I. Breedlove of the 35th Infantry, Corporal Bronsil L. Metz of the 90th Field Artillery, Private First Class Roland W. Nee of the 8th Field Artillery and Corporal John Petrone of the 27th Infantry were among those who told of seeing Japanese planes go down.
For some December 7th 1941 started as “business as usual”. While the Japanese planes were strafing Schofield and working in an atmosphere of disbelief, Private James M. Proxmire of the Medical Detachment, 35th Infantry was operating the Regimental Dispensary. Private John R. Nugent of 325th Quartermaster Battalion was waiting for the bus to Honolulu. Sergeant Roger R. Boyer, 65th Engineer Battalion and his battalion commander Major Reeves were about to start a scheduled tour of Pearl Harbor! And according to an entry in Lieutenant George F Carter’s memoirs, Lieutenant Mort Loomis, an officer in the 90th Field Artillery Battalion who was on leave, slept through the entire attack in his room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.
Within the first few hours that followed the surprise attack, descriptive words like shock, confusion, disbelief, disarray, were quickly being replaced with words like order, sense of purpose, discipline, commitment, readiness. Under the circumstances that prevailed on that morning, the 25th Infantry Division demonstrated an impressive ability to recoup and execute the defense plan.
In a short time, weapons, ammunition and gas masks, had all been issued. With full field packs troops were ready to move out. Trucks and drivers were soon in position to transport the men to the field. Most units were in the field in predetermined defensive positions within three hours of the attack. Non-Commissioned-Officers performed in an exemplary manner during this deployment.
There were rumors of Japanese troops landing on the west shore of Oahu, paratroopers in the mountains, two-man submarines off the beaches, downed pilots hiding in the fields, another air attack on the way, etc. The two-man submarine rumor proved later to be true. Increased anti-sabotage patrols were ordered. Private Charles K. Day of Division Headquarters and Military Police Company remembers martial law being declared. Military Police took over responsibilities for law and order aided by their civilian police counterparts. The 25th Division military police operated from a former Girl Scout Camp near Pearl City until the division was relieved of its defense mission.
Private Rene L. Provost said that Company F, 35th Infantry was in its defensive position at Nanakuli Beach within one hour. Sergeant Henry J. Cudzilo said Company M, 27th Infantry moved to defensive positions at Ft. Kamehameha next to Pearl Harbor within one hour. Private Philip K. H. Kam said that the 65th Engineer Battalion had orders to move out immediately — Company A to Kailua, Company B to Ft. DeRussy, and Company C to Ewa Beach area. Sergeant Jerome K. Jerome of Company C, 65th Engineer Battalion confirmed that their orders were to move immediately to their defensive positions. These reports of speedy deployment to predetermined defensive positions are typical.
After dark on the evening of Dec. 7th, Sergeant Michael Kordilla, Jr. of Company C, 35th Infantry recalls going on several patrols in the mountains to look for Japanese paratroops and downed pilots. None were found. Private George F. O’Connell was a company runner with Company G, 35th Infantry. The company was located on the west shore of Oahu where Japanese troops were rumored to have landed. O’Connell described the next 24 nervous hours as — 8 hours running barbed wire, 8 hours building guard position, and 8 hours on guard duty.
In his memoirs, Private Donald F. Hall, Jr. of the Division Headquarters and Military Police Company writes that on December 8th the division headquarters moved from Schofield to a gymnasium in the town of Aiea where he served in the Operations (G-3) section. Private Charles Clements of Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery writes that initially Division Artillery Headquarters set up in tunnels in the Kalihi Valley near Fort Shafter and then joined the Division headquarters in Aiea several days later.
Illustrative of what all the units in the 25th did after their post-attack deployments to their defensive positions; Lieutenant Carter, 90th Field Artillery Battalion, tells of his battalion working seven days a week for three months building underground bunkers for duty stations and living quarters as well as digging camouflaged gun emplacements on the west coast of Oahu. Strict black-out rules were enforced every night. Each morning before dawn and until the sun rose the entire battalion manned their howitzers in case of a dawn attack.
By June 1942 with the defeat of the Japanese fleet at Midway, units began to get Sundays off for recreation and limited passes were granted for trips to Honolulu. Also units of the division began rotating off their defensive positions for several days at a time to practice offensive operations. Private First Class Clements and others write that the 25th Infantry Division was relieved of its defense mission on 1 November 1942 and returned to Schofield Barracks to begin intense preparations for combat in the south Pacific.
With its departure from Oahu beginning on 25 November 1942 the 25th Infantry Division ended its participation in the Central Pacific Campaign. Three weeks later the division entered a new campaign to liberate Guadalcanal in the Solomons Islands where its success earned the 25th its special designation of Tropic Lightning.
Note: To submit an eye-witness account see our December 7th History Project.