Saturday, December 4, 1999

Tales of 2 Citizens

U.S. pilots greeted by friendly fire

Star-Bulletin’s only
Japanese-American reporter
sent to interview ‘enemy’

On Dec. 7, 1941, Lawrence "Larry" Nakatsuka, the Star-Bulletin's only Japanese-American reporter, was rousted out of bed to help cover the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We asked Nakatsuka to tell what happened to him that day 58 years ago. After World War II, Nakatsuka become a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, then served as press secretary to two governors -- the late Samuel Wilder King and William F. Quinn. Still later, he was assistant to U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong in Washington, D.C. Nakatsuka retired in 1983 and lives in Honolulu.

By Lawrence Nakatsuka
Special to the Star-Bulletin


I became a reporter straight out of high school in 1939. I needed a job and the Star-Bulletin needed a Japanese reporter, someone to cover local Japanese news.

Art The late Riley Allen hired me as a "space writer" at 9 cents a column inch. I was paid for only what was actually published -- not what I wrote and turned in.

The city desk was kind and printed everything I wrote. As my contacts in the Japanese community grew, so did my output and pay. After a year or so, I was put on salary like regular reporters.

On "Pearl Harbor Day" 58 years ago, I was one of 158,000 residents of Japanese ancestry. We made up 37 percent of Hawaii's total population of about half a million at that time.

The presence of so many Japanese faces in their midst made some people, especially the military, very nervous. One national magazine called Hawaii "Uncle Sam's Sugar-Coated Fortress."

While growing sugar cane was then Hawaii's No. 1 industry, we were also America's most vital military outpost. We never forgot that fact nor were we allowed to forget it.

Gen. George S. Patton Jr. -- from 1935-37 -- was a lieutenant colonel stationed on Oahu. This was, of course, long before he became the famous tank general of World War II.

In Hawaii he was then the army's senior intelligence officer. He had such serious doubts about the loyalty and trustworthiness of Japanese residents that he drafted a secret contingency plan that would make "hostages" of 128 leaders of Hawaii's Japanese community -- to forestall fifth column activity in the event of war with Japan, according to researcher Michael Slackman.

Patton's commanding general told Washington: "We can assume with some certainty that local uprisings will occur on all the islands of the territory and that the first enemy action will be attempted by surprise."

Top admirals in Washington were directed to compile a list of local Japanese who visited Japanese training ships calling at Hawaiian ports. In the event of war, those on the list would be put into "concentration camps."

At that time, Japan indeed was a real military threat. Having occupied Manchuria, Japan next moved into China and was menacing southeast Asia and points beyond -- the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and even Australia.

Pearl Harbor was America's mighty naval base, so powerful that Navy experts considered it impregnable. No one believed this bastion would be attacked first.

In 1939, when I joined the Star-Bulletin, Japan's expansionism in the Far East was causing worrisome waves about Japanese residents in Hawaii, although we were living thousands of miles away from Japan.

My Star-Bulletin beat included the Japanese consulate general in Honolulu, the Japanese language schools, the Buddhist temples and the large Japanese population of 158,000 residents (both U.S. citizens and Japan nationals).

Two-thirds of the Japanese population were American citizens; most were still minors, below 21 years of age. Under U.S. law, all Japan nationals were "aliens," even though most of these aliens had lived in Hawaii for many years, with sons and daughters born in Hawaii.

But United States naturalization laws prohibited these aliens from becoming U.S. citizens. A law permitting them to be naturalized was finally passed by Congress in 1952, after which thousands of aliens applied for naturalization and became American citizens.

In the eyes of the military generally and also in the minds of some non-Japanese civilians, all people of Japanese blood, whether citizens or aliens, posed a thorny question: Which side were these Japanese really on -- America's or Japan's?

Even those who were American citizens were seen as "dual citizens," technically citizens of both countries at the same time.

Under American law, anyone -- regardless of race -- born on American soil was automatically an American citizen. On the other hand, under Japan law, anyone born with Japanese blood could be claimed by Japan as a Japanese subject.

As for myself, there was no ambiguity: I was born, raised and educated an American. Period.

The Star-Bulletin accepted me as an American without qualms. It had no doubts at all about my loyalty as an American.

(The Star-Bulletin was strongly supportive of AJAs -- Americans of Japanese ancestry -- before, during and after the Pearl Harbor attack. This newspaper wholeheartedly endorsed a plan to induct AJA volunteers for combat in Europe. The regiment became the most highly decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history. Japanese Americans also gave outstanding service as combat interpreter/translators in the Asia-Pacific theater.)


On that Sabbath morning of Dec. 7, 1941, I was still asleep at home when my phone rang. "This is Howard Case." My city editor's voice was taut and tense. "Get down here to the office right away!"

I raced to the city room on Merchant Street downtown. The place was jumping with activity.

Howard Case was shouting orders to reporters: "Go to the governor's office (then located in Iolani Palace)...Get to the emergency hospital for the names of the dead and injured..."

The Star-Bulletin switchboard was swamped with incoming calls. All Oahu wanted news: Who, what, when, where, why, how, etc.

At 21, I was the youngest reporter on the news staff. I wanted to get in on the action. I wanted something to do, anything.

Riley Allen, the Star-Bulletin editor, at first thought it might not be safe for a reporter with a Japanese face to go outside the city room searching for news. Finally, he told the city editor, "Send Larry to the Japanese consulate and see what he can find there."

The consul general, Nagao Kita, lived on Nuuanu Avenue on the corner of Kuakini Street. I knocked on his door. He was a pleasant, middle-aged diplomat whom I had met a few times at official functions.

I asked him, "Do you know that Japanese planes are bombing Pearl Harbor?"

He appeared surprised and said, "I heard gunfire but thought it was American ships and planes on maneuvers."

When he appeared unconvinced that a real attack was taking place, I told him the Star-Bulletin was coming out with a war extra. I pressed him for a statement.

He said, "I have no comment until I find out what this is all about."

I returned to the Star-Bulletin to write my story. By this hour the first extra was rolling off the press. It had a huge headline: "WAR! OAHU BOMBED BY JAPANESE PLANES."

With the extra in hand, I dashed back to the consulate. This time I met the consul general on the back steps of the consulate building. As Kita was looking at the front page, two police cars drove up. (A police guard posted at the consulate grounds had smelled smoke coming from the building and had called his headquarters.)

The police officers waved aside the consul general and rushed up the steps. Inside they surprised several men burning papers in a back room, acrid smoke filling the place. The police doused the flames and recovered some papers from a washtub.

I learned later that among the men in the building was a Japanese naval officer who had been sent from Japan to spy on Pearl Harbor. He was Ensign Takeo Yoshikawa, alias "Tadashi Morimura."

Consul General Kita, Ensign Yoshikawa and other diplomatic personnel were subsequently repatriated to Japan.

Many years later, referring to his spy mission, Yoshikawa said he had found Hawaii's Japanese "so distressingly loyal to the U.S." that he worked alone.

Yoshikawa said, "I had high hopes of nisei cooperation when I was first assigned to Hawaii, but these hopes never came to fruition."

From the consulate that hectic morning, I hurried back to the Star-Bulletin newsroom to type my story. The article appeared in the second and third extras that afternoon.

After a deadly day,
U.S. pilots greeted by
cloud of friendly fire

On Dec. 7, 1941, Navy Ensign James "Jimmy" Daniels was part of an aerial force returning to Pearl Harbor from the carrier USS Enterprise. Daniels and other pilots flew into the shambles of the harbor, where jittery, trigger-happy gunners shot at friend and foe alike. Daniels barely escaped with his life; the pilots who flew in with him weren't as lucky. Daniels went on to serve with distinction in the Navy, earning several aerial victories during the war, and later serving in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. He retired as a captain and lives in Kailua.

By Jerome Hagen
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Art When the Japanese naval task force attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. Pacific Fleet had three aircraft carriers. USS Saratoga was on the West Coast, USS Lexington was near Midway Island, and USS Enterprise was nearing Oahu as part of Task Force Eight, commanded by Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr.

The task force had expected to be at sea for two weeks of training with plans to be back in port by mid-December for a Christmas holiday standdown. This is the story of 26-year-old Ensign James "Jimmy" Daniels, assigned to Fighting Squadron Six aboard the Enterprise.


Admiral Halsey relayed the news that Pearl Harbor was under attack to all ships in the task force and immediately launched planes to search for the Japanese carriers. Four fighters searched the area around Enterprise and later three torpedo planes were launched to extend the search area and protect the task force. Some of the search aircraft went as far as 175 miles to the northwest and northeast but failed to find the enemy carriers.

Ensign James "Jimmy" Daniels, one of the six fighter pilots escorting the torpedo planes, recalls, "It was about as black a night as I have ever seen. There was no moon and no lights of any kind. We flew formation by lining up the faint red interior lights from the cockpits and the white exhaust light from the exhaust manifold." Finally, after a long and unsuccessful search, Lt. Cmdr. Gene Lindsey, commander of the torpedo group, flipped his exterior lights on briefly, the signal to return to the carrier.

Finding the carrier without navigational aids, communications or lights had been an adventure. Daniels' recalls, "When Lt. (jg) Hebel briefly turned on his exterior lights and blinked them as a signal that they were over the carrier, I was amazed." With nothing but a simple plotting chart and some dead reckoning knowledge, Hebel had put the flight directly over the blacked-out Enterprise. The escorting fighters, the first aircraft to return to the carrier, reached a low fuel state while waiting for other aircraft to be recovered and were ordered to land at Ford Island. Hebel, with his flight of five ensigns, began the 100-mile-trip to Pearl Harbor. Hebel led the six fighters past what is now NAS Barbers Point and then down the coastline to the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The only light on Oahu visible to the pilots was the lighthouse at Diamond Head.

Somehow,the lighthouse beacon was never turned off, although every other light on Oahu was out.

As the planes neared the entrance to Pearl Harbor, they noticed what appeared to be burning sugar cane fields. The flames were actually from the burning battleships in Pearl Harbor. As the aircraft approached the harbor at 1,000 feet, Hebel signaled for the aircraft to move into right echelon formation, and called the tower for permission to land. Ensign Daniels was flying in the No. 5 position.

After a short delay, which indicated that the tower had no knowledge that the aircraft were expected, the flight was told to make a normal approach for landing. Hebel and his flight made a break over the field for a normal approach and landing. As the aircraft turned on their lights and broke formation, "...every antiaircraft gun, machine gun, rifle, pistol, rock, wrench and piece of metal pipe that was available was fired or thrown at the aircraft." In an instant, said Daniels, "The sky was filled with so much metal, you could have walked on it."

Hebel broke away and proceeded to Wheeler Army Air Field. The army personnel at Wheeler, after hearing all the shooting at Pearl Harbor, reacted the same way, and shot Hebel down on his final approach to the runway. Hebel suffered a fractured skull and died shortly thereafter.

Ensign Herb Menges, pilot of the No. 2 plane in the flight, was hit by ground fire from Pearl Harbor and crashed into the Palms Hotel near the Pearl City Tavern. The hotel burned to the ground without any civilian casualties, but Menges was killed.

Ensign Gayle Hermann, pilot of the No. 3 plane, took a five-inch shell through the forward part of his fuselage, which tore off the engine. Hermann spun to the ground near the golf course on Ford Island, climbed out of the wreckage and, carrying his parachute, walked to the squadron hangar.

Ensign Davy Flynn, flying the No. 4 aircraft, broke away from the carnage at Pearl Harbor and flew towards the Barbers Point area. He bailed out of his damaged plane, wrenched his back, and had to concern himself with a group of Army security personnel who were trying their best to kill him as a suspected Japanese paratrooper. Flynn's loud and earthy cussing won the day and saved his life.

Daniels, flying in the No. 5 position, was directly above Flynn when the shooting started. He turned off his exterior lights, dove for the approach end of the runway, and then sped towards the channel entrance at low altitude. Ensign Eric "Ethan" Allen, pilot of the No. 6 aircraft, was killed by a 50-caliber-bullet as he tried to bail out of his damaged aircraft.

Of the six men who tried to land at Ford Island, only one was still airborne. Daniels was in the vicinity of Fort Weaver, near the channel entrance, when a voice from the Ford Island tower came over the radio and demanded, "Who is there?" Daniels, now extremely low on fuel, answered, "Six Fox Five," his squadron call sign. The voice from the tower then asked, "What is your name?"

Daniels recognized the voice of Lt. Cmdr. Howard L. Young, the air-group commander. Tired after a long day in the air, weary from being shot at by friendly fire and low on fuel, Daniels was in no mood for word games. Yet, there was little he could do but to comply if he was to land his plane.

"What is my nickname?" Young continued. "Brigham" responded Daniels. "What is your middle name?" asked Young. "You tell me what my middle name is," the exasperated Daniels retorted. "Ganson," said Young, and then added, "I know you are low on fuel. Put your wheels down and come in low and fast." Daniels manually cranked the 24 to 26 turns of the landing gear lever to fully extend the landing gear and flew up the channel low and fast. The next thing to startle him was USS Nevada, aground near Hospital Point.

Nevada was directly in front of Daniels' flight path and its superstructure towered over him.

"I dropped my left wing, missed Nevada, corrected to the right and touched down on the runway at Ford Island. I was going so fast that my flaps did not come down until I was halfway down the runway," he said.

"I was going too fast to stop at the end of the runway, so I ground looped the plane and managed to accomplish the maneuver without damaging the plane."

As he taxied to the hangar area, a heavy machine gun, manned by a marine in a revetment, began firing at Daniels' plane. The marine was stitching a row of 50-caliber bullets directly over Daniels' head. Only the unexpected intervention of Ensign Hermann saved Daniels. Hermann got the marine's attention by smashing a borrowed rifle over his head.

As Daniels stopped the plane near the hangar, Hermann bolted to the aircraft and climbed up to the cockpit, where both pilots babbled incoherently for a few moments before climbing down and heading for the tower to report to Lt. Cmdr. Young. It was 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, 1941.

Enterprise cruised with her supporting ships off Kauai. A few hundred miles north, six Japanese carriers steamed on a course away from Hawaii. Battleships protected both flanks of the carriers while heavy cruisers protected the front and rear of the task force. Destroyers sped ahead of the column to protect it against enemy submarines. Daniels, in retrospect, recalls "how futile it would have been if the tiny Enterprise task force had located the 500-plane Japanese fleet."

This essay is excerpted from an unpublished manuscript
by Jerome Hagen, dean of academic advising at Hawaii Pacific University,
who teaches a course on World War II.

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