Pearl Harbor witness: “It was so scary”
Mon., Dec. 7, 2015
Like most Americans, Nancy Harlocker’s world changed on Dec. 7, 1941.
A 10-year-old living an idyllic island childhood on Oahu, Harlocker woke to the sound of her father yelling, “We’re at war!”
She and her 14-year-old brother looked up to see a Japanese Zero flying overhead.
“The thing I remember most from that morning is seeing the red rising sun on that plane,” Harlocker, 84, recalled recently. “It was so scary.”
The Dalton Gardens resident was born in Hawaii, where her father had a thriving dental practice.
On that morning in 1941, she and her brother went up onto the roof to watch the planes.
“We couldn’t see Pearl Harbor from home, but we saw the explosion when they dropped a bomb on the gas station 2 miles from our house,” she said.
When her father noticed where they were, he hollered at them to get inside.
“The next thing we knew he was out in the front yard shooting at the planes,” Harlocker said. Her father was an avid sportsman and had cases of ammunition in the basement.
In the chaotic hours after the attack, she and her family packed their bags in case they needed to go to the mountains to hide, she said.
Expecting the initial attack would be followed by a full-scale invasion, the family filled their bathtub with fresh water because they were told the water supply would be poisoned.
After hastily issuing instructions, her father hustled out – his medical skills were needed.
“We didn’t see him for three days,” Harlocker said. “The Army took over our school campus and set up a hospital to treat the wounded.”
A woman and her three children took shelter with them for five days. The woman’s husband was stationed at Hickam Field and she didn’t know if he’d survived the attack.
“It was kind of bewildering,” Harlocker said. “Life changed. Childhood changed. We sort of flowed into a new life.”
Blackouts became part of that new life.
“We had to eat before sundown,” she recalled. They congregated in her parents’ room, which was fitted with blackout curtains.
Gone were the carefree days on the beach.
“The island was surrounded by barbed wire, and we had curfew for quite a while.”
Since their school had been taken over by the military, the University of Hawaii made room for the children to continue their studies on the college campus.
While no sirens sounded on the day of the attack, air raid drills became part of their classroom activities. When the siren sounded, the children hustled out of the school and jumped into trenches that had been dug around the perimeter.
“Everybody carried gas masks – they strapped on like a purse,” Harlocker said. “During the drills, we’d have to put our gas masks on.”
She grimaced. “I can still remember the smell of the rubber.”
The war shrunk her class size as well. After the attack, she said, many families relocated to the mainland.
Her father chose to keep his family with him, though he was busier than ever. He joined the newly formed Businessmen’s Military Training Corps, which guarded the island’s infrastructure. A photo shows the group training in Harlocker’s front yard.
Harlocker’s mother kept busy, too. She volunteered with the Red Cross and every week served cookies and coffee to the men returning for R&R at Hickam Field.
She took her daughter with her and they’d fold bandages together.
Harlocker also went door to door selling war bonds, and in seventh grade she worked at a pineapple plantation.
She shrugged. “All the men had gone to war.”
While the attack on Pearl Harbor changed her childhood dramatically, she’s thankful her father kept the family together.
“He needed us,” she said.
She stayed on the island until moving to North Idaho in 1993. For 17 years she wrote for the Honolulu Advertiser’s society page.
“I had a great time,” Harlocker said.
She grew serious, recalling the attack and the years that followed – years in which children grew up quickly and shouldered responsibilities on capable, if young, shoulders.
“We learned to be generous and caring. I’m grateful my mom let me be so involved,” she said. “Living without gives you an appreciation for what you have.”
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