The island in the center of Pearl Harbor provided a vulnerable vantage point for experiencing the devastating Japanese onslaught of 7 December 1941. The mooring quays off one of Ford Island’s flanks marked the outline of what was then known as Battleship Row—where capital ships were attacked relentlessly and put out of action. Enemy warplanes also strafed and bombed the island itself.
At the time, Ford Island was the site of a naval air station and a home for Navy families. The size and speed of naval aircraft have long since rendered the air station obsolete, but officers’ houses have remained, as have the memories recorded by those who were children during the Japanese attack.
The 1941 occupants of the grandest residence, Quarters K, were Rear Admiral Patrick N. L. Bellinger, commander of Patrol Wing Two, and his family. The house has since become the domain for the Commander Submarine Force Pacific Fleet (ComSubPac). Neighbors of that admiral are Katrina and Kyle Luvsovsky. Captain Luvsovsky is the SubPac supply officer, and Katrina works for the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii Office of the Bishop.
A few years ago, once the couple was ensconced in Quarters H—which was home of dental officer Errol Willet in 1941—Katrina became a retroactive investigative reporter. After contacting a number of the former children who were present when the Japanese flew over, she got them to share their recollections. In other cases, she unearthed accounts that had been written previously.
She became so enthusiastic that in 2014 she arranged a reunion of the survivors. It was an event loaded with joy and emotion as the former neighbors got together to recall the most memorable day of their lives. Later that year Katrina wove the stories together in a fascinating self-published book, Ford Island: December 7, 1941. It is a tapestry made up of striking vignettes.
Harry F. Carlson Jr. did not live long enough to attend the reunion, but he had written an account. His dad was operations officer of the air station. When the duty officer told his father of the air raid, the commander rushed off in his jalopy. En route to his office he realized he had forgotten his false teeth and went home to get them. The U-turn may have saved his life, for the USS Arizona (BB-39) soon blew up near the road he would have been traveling.
One of the chapters in the book is a reprint of Mary Ann Ramsey’s article “Only Yesteryear,” which first appeared in the winter 1991 issue of Naval History. Her father, Lieutenant Commander Logan Ramsey, was on Admiral Bellinger’s staff. It was her dad who, just after the first bombs fell, sent the electrifying message: “Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is no drill.” Ms. Ramsey remembered joining many others in a bomb shelter beneath the admiral’s quarters.
Families gathered in the shelter, as did wounded, oil-covered survivors from the nearby ships. Charlotte Lemann remembered, “Some arrived barely alive, their flesh hanging off them in ribbons.” Ambulances showed up to ferry the injured to medical treatment and bring mattresses for the benefit of those not yet taken away for care. Some ill-clad survivors scavenged the closets of nearby houses to get clothes. Charlotte gave her bathrobe to a shivering sailor. One of the consequences of the sinking of the Arizona was that the hull interrupted the pipes that supplied drinking water to the near side of the island. The substitute came in the form of water liberated from a swimming pool and then boiled. The chlorinated taste was another recollection that memories preserved.
Fear, anger, and bewilderment were common reactions during and after the attack. With rumors rampant about a potential invasion as a follow-up to the air attack, worst-case scenarios leapt easily to mind. Some of the Navy wives had heard of the atrocities the Japanese had inflicted on Chinese civilians during the ongoing war in that country. One mother feared the families on the island would be imprisoned. Talking to a young Marine who wore a pistol and an ammunition belt, she asked him to save three bullets if the Japanese came ashore, adding, “When I am sure that my children are dead, then you will shoot me.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he dutifully replied.
Perhaps the youngest of the children who survived that day on Ford Island was an infant named Sarah Elizabeth “Sally” Craig—barely more than a month old. Her father, Lieutenant Kenneth Craig, was assistant operations officer of Patrol Wing Two. Also in Quarters L, not far from where the Luvsovskys now live, were the lieutenant’s wife, Ann; daughter Cynthia; and son, Kenneth. Like his father, the son became a naval aviator. And, as it happened, Sally Craig years later married a young aviator named Chuck Larson. In time Larson converted to nuclear submarines and eventually became a four-star admiral. In 1991, the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack, Sally was back at Pearl Harbor, where her husband was then Commander-in-Chief Pacific.