A landmark book published to rave reviews a decade ago, Pearl Harbor Ghosts has now been updated to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the surprise attack that forever changed the course of history.
Full of gripping drama and vibrant details, here is the intimate human story of the events surrounding that fateful day of December 7, 1941-the glamorous tropical city that seemed too beautiful to suffer devastation . . . the stunned naval personnel whose lives would permanently be divided into before and after Pearl Harbor . . . the ordinary Honolulu residents who were tragically unprepared to be the first target in the Pacific war . . . the Japanese pilots who manned the squadron of deadly silver bombers . . . and the island's community of Japanese-Americans whose lives would never be the same again.
Blending meticulous historic recreation with lively reporting, Clarke counterpoints the freeze-frame nightmare of the 1941 bombing with the disturbing realities of present-day Honolulu, where hundreds of veterans, both American and Japanese, converge each year to relive every hour of the attack. Wealthy Waikiki landowners and native Hawaiian farmers, admirals and nurses, Navy wives and government officials-all take their part in Clarke's rich tapestry of memory and insight. In the end, Pearl Harbor emerges as a trauma that spread from Oahu to engulf the nation and the world-an event that continues to reverberate in the lives of all who experienced it.
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April 29, 2001
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Excerpt from Pearl Harbor Ghosts by Thurston Clarke
THE GREAT WHITE SHIP LEAVES HONOLULU
Ever since I read about the last peacetime sailing of the S.S. Lurline from Honolulu on December 5, 1941, the words "Pearl Harbor" can set her sailing in my mind.
I like the contrast: the Great White Liner of the Pacific leaving peacetime Honolulu and docking five days later, in wartime San Francisco, its passengers having traveled from peace to war. The abrupt change traumatized them. They learned about the attack when a porter brought their morning coffee in a tin pot, because the expensive silverware was already in storage, or when a crewman sloshed blackout paint across their portholes, with each stroke darkening their staterooms. They lived in that eerie twilight for two days, fully clothed and wearing life preservers, knowing there were casualties in Hawaii, but not knowing which of their loved ones were already corpses.
The Lurline's passengers may not have been escaping an enemy occupation or certain death, but had they stayed behind they might have been among the twenty-five hundred servicemen and civilians killed on December 7. The Lurline's last peacetime sailing is compelling because it separated people into two groups: those who would be strafed by Japanese planes, live under martial law, and see dead American soldiers and sailors; and those aboard the Lur- line who, like mainland Americans, would always remember December 7 in terms of where they were and what they were doing, much as my generation recalls the Kennedy assassination.
So imagine the S.S. Lurline, the Great White Ship of the Matson Lines, as she loaded passengers in Honolulu on December 5, 1941. First, picture her from a distance, perhaps from the observation deck of the eight-story-high Aloha Tower--The Gateway to the Pacific--that winked colored signals and was the tallest building for thousands of miles. From here, several hundred feet above the docks, there appeared to be little to distinguish this Boat Day from others marking a liner's arrival or departure from the most isolated archipelago in the world. There were spiderwebs of streamers, blizzards of confetti, and celebrities posing for photographers. The Royal Hawaiian Band played its tearjerking melodies and hula girls danced. Local boys dived for coins thrown from the top deck, and there were flower leis everywhere.
Earlier that day, Japanese women had gathered blossoms from slopes of the saw-toothed mountains overshadowing Honolulu. Elderly Hawaiian women had sat along the sidewalks leading to the docks all morning, plucking wild ginger and plumeria from old cereal boxes and releasing clouds of perfume, as they strung the fifteen hundred leis necessary for the average Boat Day. The leis were long and full, fragrant necklaces of yellow ilima and sweet mountain maile hanging to passengers' knees.
Seen from the Aloha Tower, the Boat Day crowds of Decem- ber 5 resembled earlier ones. So many people were dressed in white the scene appeared as if in an overexposed photograph. Women wore white-cotton dresses and carried white parasols. Naval officers were in dress whites and civilians were in linen suits. Nursemaids in white uniforms minded the scrubbed children of the kamaaina aristocracy, an elite of about one hundred Caucasian families descended from nineteenth-century New England missionaries who, as the expression goes, "Came to do good and did well." During the last half century, these families had overthrown the Hawaiian monarchy, supported the immigration of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino laborers, and through intermarriage and interlocking directorates seized control of the land, commerce, and political life of these islands as completely as the oligarchy of any banana republic. Yet, within three days of the Lurline's sailing, this elite would see logs rolled across its polo fields, its private schools and country clubs turned into barracks, and its political power swept away forever.
As on every Boat Day, the crowds beneath the Aloha Tower numbered in the thousands, many more than might be warranted by the departure of eight hundred passengers. But on a remote island the arrival or departure of a boat for the mainland was always an event. Large Alexander and Baldwin calendars advertising the Matson Lines schedule hung in most Honolulu kitchens and so on Boat Day office workers left their desks to see who was arriving or leaving, and young men met every liner, hoping to discover a pretty girl. Beachboys from Waikiki came to play ukulele serenades to women they had romanced. Businessmen and politicians gathered in huddles, closing deals and exchanging gossip. The leis, hula dancers, and Royal Hawaiian Band reminded everyone that they lived on an island with an exotic history and culture that had, so far, escaped the horrors of the century.