On December 7, 1941, Tom Noble’s father was stationed on a cruiser in Pearl Harbor while Tom and the rest of the family lived in nearby Honolulu. The family initially thought the attack was just a training exercise, but quickly realized that the danger was all too real. The family eventually evacuated their home fearing a full Japanese invasion of the island and anxiously awaited news on their father’s whereabouts. Twelve-years-old at the time, Tom would rise from being a Navy Junior to commanding the last ship on the Brooklyn Navy Yard after the war.
When Pearl Harbor was First Attacked
I was a Navy Junior and my father was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Actually he was stationed on the USS Detroit. We had moved to Honolulu from California in ’39 and stayed there until the summer of ’42. So my mother and my sister and I were at home on December 7, in a part of Honolulu called Moana Valley. It is probably five, eight miles from Pearl Harbor. We were getting up and having breakfast and we got a phone call from a friend of my father’s, who was in Honolulu, well actually at Pearl Harbor. His ship was just visiting from the States; he was not stationed there. So, he was a friend that we had known in the past, and were planning to spend that Sunday down at the beach with him. And he called about, I guess it was about 7:20, 7:30, right in there. Said he didn’t think dad was coming home that day because they were having a strange exercise out at Pearl Harbor. He was out at the Alexander Young Hotel, and he said they’ve even spread oil on Hickam Field and set it afire, very realistic drill. And so we turn on the radio and then found out from the announcers that indeed the Japanese had attacked. So that’s how we first heard about it.
We turned on the police radio; I was aspiring to be a HAM operator so we had a radio with the police frequency. We got to hear all about what was happening within Honolulu itself. And the regular radio channel kept telling people to stay in their house, stay home. So we immediately ran outside to the top of the hill. And at the top of the hill we could see the smoke and stuff in the distance. We could really see the Punchbowl and could sort of see Pearl Harbor but it was so far away, it was just smoke in the distance.
At some point, probably before we did that, my mother called a friend of hers. They lived in an apartment right on the beach, directly next to the Fort DeRussy which was a 14-inch coastal defense guns. Mother told her friend Bobby, “I think you better come up to our house because the guns may start shooting.” And when the guns did shoot, they all warned the local neighbors to put their dishes on the floor and take the pictures off the walls. So it was quite a noisy affair. So they came up to our house and spent the day with us.
And the two mothers decided we might want to evacuate. And so they took the car and loaded with blankets. And put a gallon bottle, took a gallon bottle of Manhattans and poured them out and filled it with water. Kept the gallon bottle of scotch. The worst thing that happened after that was they rationed whiskey right away. But anyhow, so we were going to go to the hills if the Japanese landed. God knows you can’t go really far in Oahu, but that was our plan.
We heard that dad was okay about four days later. And what happened was, he was a staff duty officer on the destroyers of the scouting force staff. So he had the duty that night, and he was aboard the [U.S.S.] Detroit. And the Detroit was, I think, the only cruiser that got out, got underway and got out of there.
Actually, what had happened was the ship went out, and it only had the duty people aboard. So it came back and picked up those who had been left ashore. The Admiral sent his steward over to make phone calls to all the dependents saying that people [on board] were all okay.
Anti-Aircraft Shell in Town
In fact, in downtown Honolulu, in spite of what the magazines said, there was only one projectile hit in Honolulu itself. And it was a returning anti-aircraft shell, not a Japanese bomb. And it hit a drug store, and Mrs. Nichols and her son were adjacent to the drug store when the shell hit. She happened to be in first gear, and when she got to our house, she was still in first gear. (laughs) She just put the pedal to the metal and came right on up.
Evacuation from Hawaii
We finally got evacuated in March or early April. We had been called to an earlier evacuation but mother went into hiding if you will, and we missed the ship so we were able to stay an extra month. And the reason for the evacuation was pretty much because the Hawaiian Islands aren’t self-sufficient food-wise and the fewer people that were there, the less [food] would have to be shipped out to the island. So we felt that was really the reason we were evacuated. Not from any fear of the Japanese coming.
We were told to go. We went to Hawaii on the [SS] Lurline, which was one of two Matson Line ships, and going out there were 750 passengers, more or less what the ship would carry. Well, in March we went home back on the same ship, but they had put in double-deck bunkers everywhere, and there were 1500 of us going back to the States. They had some pretty fancy staterooms that had lanai suites. So they actually had these porches, [and] three navy juniors and I were assigned to bunks that were set up on the porch.
Life after Pearl Harbor
We lived pretty much [the same] as before [Pearl Harbor was attacked.] We got black paint – I think it was artist’s paint of some kind – and we blacked out all the windows. We painted the headlights of the car, painted them over with just a little blue dot in the middle. As I said, whisky rationing happened right away. That didn’t bother me, but my mother made note of it to me.
We were listening to the police radio. The police were sent on at least two false alarms that the Japanese were parachuting [into Hawaii]. So the police were sent to various parachute locations. They were all false alarms. I don’t think it was a matter of Japanese pilots bailing out [or] it was just a matter of bum word getting out to the police. We were told that we should fill our bathtubs and flush the toilets because the Japanese had poisoned the reservoirs. Of course, that was phony also. That was over the commercial radio telling us to fill the bathtubs and all.
Spotting the USS Shaw Story
Well one thing (this is a one-day event), we were at the beach in January or February. Now do I have to explain that that’s warm climate … you can go to the beach in January or February? And we saw a destroyer going by, and, by golly, its camouflage was so good, you couldn’t even see the front portion. You just saw the back end of it. It turns out it was the [USS] Shaw. And the Shaw had his bow blown off, and he put a temporary stub-bow on and sent it back to the States. So what we were looking at really didn’t have a bow.
Lack of Discrimination in Hawaii
Did you know if the Japanese-Americans [in Hawaii] felt anything discriminatory after Pearl Harbor?
Absolutely not. About six months before the war started – maybe a year before – there was an exercise where the National Guard manned all kinds of places around. Actually, in town, we had a machine gun nest on a corner one block from us. It was a bunch of sandbags set up for a machine gun nest. All the National Guards there were Japanese. They were American, but they looked Japanese.
Well, I don’t know if there was hatred in California or if it was just in Washington, but when they interned all of those people, it was a terrible thing to do. Heck, two out of every ten people in Hawaii were of Japanese origin. The people there did not think that just because they looked like a Japanese person that they were enemies. It would have been hell to pay if they did.