Tuesday, December 28, 2004

(17-4) HICKAM FIELD, DECEMBER 7, 1941 [PART 1] by Jim Fulton

On 17 July 1939, at age 18, I enlisted at Philadelphia for the Army Air Corps in Hawaii. The bunks on the Army transport “Republic” were swarming with bedbugs so I slept on the cold steel deck from Brooklyn to Honolulu. The Army Air Corps was turning over Luke Field on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor to the Navy and moving to the new Hickam Field. I spent about six months building the Hickam base gym/theatre with salvaged lumber from Luke. Learned a lot about carpentry and how to ride a jack-hammer. Was then assigned to the Hickam crash boat crew for a few weeks until they saw I’d never make a sailor. They sent me to the 23rd Bombardment Squadron on 1 Feb. 1940. I asked for radio operator/mechanic’s school at Wheeler Field. The night we graduated, got drunk on blackberry brandy, outside the hanger we slept in on canvas cots. Didn’t realize my “buddies” had put a 2x4 under my mattress till the next morning. Fortunately got sick-as-a-dog, and haven’t been drunk since.

Back at the 23rd, I was assigned to a B-18 crew on flight duty. I loved flying and the pay was great: $31.50 per month, rather than the base pay of $21.00. Perhaps six months before 7 Dec. 1941 the 23rd Bomb got the new B-17 “Flying Fortress”.

Peacetime in Hawaii was pretty nice. Got to be a pretty good radio operator//mechanic. Aerial gunnery practice was fun. I Though I did more than my fair share of KP. We body-surfed, over in the big waves, near Bellows Field, and at Nanakuli. Roller skated in Waikiki and up at Wahiawa near Wheeler Field. Great Mango milkshakes, in Waikiki. The worse aspect of Island life was the shortage of girls. Tried Hotel Street--- once. A two-week R&R in Hilo on the Big Island was paradise —if I hadn’t missed a phone call, I might have married a beautiful (really) Portuguese girl over there.

Just before the was, a few draftees showed up at Hickam. One was a former piano player with one of the big bands. He’d play Boogie=Woogie in the mess hall every morning. Man!! I’d stay till the last minute, then run like hell for the flight line, getting there just before takeoff, until the day Crew Chief T/Sgt. Joe Anselmi told me” One more time and you’re grounded.”

Our C. O., “Blondie” Saunders, was a West Point All-American tackle, and we’d have follow him anywhere.

Two weeks before 7 Dec. the entire island was placed on alert. Our planes were parked close together so that they could be better guarded against sabotage. On Sat. morning Dec. 6, the alert was called off and we turned in our weapons. Many guys headed for Honolulu. About six o’clock on Sunday morning I was awakened by several distant explosions from the direction of Ft. Kamehameha, the Coast Artillery base just east of the mouth of Pearl Harbor, and thought it unusual that they were practice-firing on a Sunday. Decided to skip breakfast and just lay in the sack. Awhile later, my dozing ended when there was the sound of diving planes and many very loud explosions over toward Pearl Harbor. Now we wondered why the Navy was practicing on Sunday—they never had before. We all ran to our windows on the top floor of the barracks. When we saw black smoke billowing up from Pearl, we knew something was wrong. A fighter plane came in at rooftop level. There was a big red ball painted on the side--- someone shouted “That’s a Dutch Plane” but we quickly realized it was JAPANESE.

The PILOT WAS CALMLY LOOKING FROM SIDE TO SIDE,. I FELT THAT OUR EYES MET, TWENTY YARDS APART. Fortunately he wasn’t firing—we’d have gone down like ducks in a shooting gallery... TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE...


Blogger Carla said...

Thanks for this article. My father Turk Tortora, mentioned in it, died in 2003 in Hawaii, to which he returned after 34 years of active duty. Many of the names mentioned and the activities of the day were such a part of my life as he and Mother (Helen, still alive) would answer my questions about that day.

The irony of Dec. 7, is that my father's last assignment was as Director of Materiel for PACAF and his office was his barracks building of Dec. 7. He often felt his air force career had come full circle.

12:35 PM  

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