A child’s view of war’s ugliness

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September 17, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson and her family were eating breakfast just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, when bullets tore into their home overlooking Pearl Harbor — “A day that will live in infamy,” President Roosevelt called it.
The Japanese attack that morning on the massive U.S. Naval base on Oahu thrust the United States into World War II and began the Pacific Theater phase of hostilities that would carry on for nearly four years.
Nicholson’s lavishly illustrated book, “Pearl Harbor Child,” tells about her experiences as a six year old witnessing the attack and living through the remainder of the war.

“SUDDENLY we heard the sound  of low flying planes, then almost immediately, loud explosions, followed by more planes passing directly over our house,” Nicholson wrote. “The blasts were too much for my impulsive Scotch-Irish father to ignore. He bolted up from the kitchen table and darted into the front yard. I was right behind him.”
Nicholson’s first-person account of how Battleship Row reeled under the onslaught of Japanese torpedo planes and bombers is as good as any, and shows how strongly it impressed her as a young observer.
Recalling when she and her family were stopped by military police while trying to drive from their vulnerable home on the Pearl peninsula, she observed: “In the midst of great confusion and panic, they were in no mood to be cooperative. Raising their guns, they screamed at us, ‘Get out of here!’”
The family fled to a sugar cane field where they were joined by neighbors. Young Nicholson and other children at first found hiding and playing among the cane great adventure, but newness soon wore thin and all wanted to go home.
The book traces the family’s ordeals and trying war years.
Nicholson tells of having to live in spartan conditions and blackouts that made their home hot and clammy from nightfall to dawn. Meat was a rare commodity, along with other things, such as silk hose for women, that were commonplace before the war effort demanded many sacrifices. Women would color their legs with cosmetics and draw on a seam, just as real hose of the period had; silk was needed for parachutes.
Ration books, victory gardens and “ugly barbed wire” stretched across Waikiki Beach are recounted in exacting detail, as are soldiers with scary-looking bayonets on their rifles stationed at guard posts everywhere.
All, from newborns to the very oldest, were required to carry gas masks, in fear the Japanese would attack with poison gas.
The paranoia generated by an anticipated attack also required all paper money to be overprinted with “HAWAII” so that it if were confiscated it couldn’t be used by the Japanese to make purchases from unwitting merchants elsewhere. Censorship was strictly enforced and was a task that occupied her father in his post office job, often well past the normal quitting time.
Children joined the war effort by collecting metal, rubber and things that could be used in production of weapons or materials to support the military.

NICHOLSON went beyond her own experiences to enliven the Pacific phase of the war.
She devoted a chapter to Japanese-Americans and how they were placed in detention camps.
Many Americans of Japanese ancestry volunteered for the military and formed the Army’s 442nd Regiment, which was highly decorated for its service in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was a member of the combat group.
She concluded her book with several accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor told by veterans, including Lee Soucy who was on the USS Utah, which capsized when struck by Japanese torpedoes.
Soucy noted that many find the rusty Utah, made a memorial after the war, “an ugly sight. …May that ugly sight serve as a reminder that war IS ugly.”

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