Gas Masks & Palm Trees: My Wartime Hawaii

Gas Masks & Palm Trees: My Wartime Hawaii

by Virginia Melville Cowart


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, August 27


An adolescent became an adult through experiences brought about by the attack of December 7th, 1941. My story is told in chronological order. It is my story alone. One would be amazed at how quickly Oahu changed from peace to war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781412096072
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 10/17/2006
Pages: 172
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Virginia Melville Cowart was born in Coronado, California on August 25th 1924, the daughter of a U S Navy World War I veteran, granddaughter of a Spanish-American Army veteran and ultimately the wife of a World War II Navy veteran.

She left California at age three and moved to Cavite, Philippines with her mother and sister. When she was seven, they joined her Navy father in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, where they lived until February, 1945.

She and her officer husband met at the U S Navy Registered Publications Issuing Office, Pearl Harbor and were married in Honolulu on July 19, 1944.

They moved to Oakland, California after the War and the birth of their daughter, Shirley Ann, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. James Allen Cowart was born in Berkeley, California on May 27, 1947.

Virginia worked as an Instructional Aide with Educationally Handicapped and Deaf children for almost ten years. She loved the written word from the time that she was a child and one of her poems was chosen for publication in a children's' book. She has had articles published in various magazines and newspapers and was Editor of her Homeowner's Association newsletter for two years. She is a featured author in Larry King's book, "Love Stories of World War II."

She and her beloved husband, Jim, were married for sixty-one years until his death on August 30th, 2005.

Read an Excerpt


My Wartime Hawaii
By Virginia Melville Cowart

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2006 Virginia Melville Cowart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4120-9607-2

Chapter One


I remember; I remember Pearl Harbor. I remember that Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941, when sleep was interrupted by sounds of explosives and gunfire. I was irritated and demonstrated my irritability by moaning, groaning, tossing and turning and, as a last resort, burying my head under my pillow. When that didn't muffle the sounds I was totally frustrated. "How can anyone sleep through all that noise? This is the first time they've done that. Why aren't they practicing on a weekday like they usually do?"

One would expect a different reaction to the sounds of explosives and gunfire, but to a kamaaina those sounds were not unusual. Military activity was prevalent on the Islands during pre-World War II days, especially on the island of Oahu. The Army and Navy frequently held maneuvers off the coast of some of the beaches or at various installations.

The artillery sounds of December 7th were intense and repetitious, aggravating me as never before. "Why does the military have to hold maneuvers on a Sunday and at such an ungodly hour; just when there's no school and I'm trying to sleep?" I could not understand how my younger sister, Betty, in the other twin bed could sleep through it all. Well, yes I could. She had always been a sound sleeper and could sleep through anything. Needless to say my moaning and groaning eventually awakened her.

Dad had worked all night and had been home for just a short time, about two hours. By now he was probably into deep sleep and sounds were obstructed. Mom remarked later that she was bothered by the noise but kept quiet so as not to disturb my father.

Our home on Paki Avenue was situated between nearby Fort Ruger and Fort de Russy in the Waikiki area. Pearl Harbor Naval Base was about 15 miles away. It was difficult for me to determine from which direction the disturbance was coming. It sounded close yet distant.

"Is it coming from Fort Ruger? Or could the Navy be practicing at sea?" The phone rang as if in answer to my questions. I jumped out of bed wondering who could be calling at 8:10 on a Sunday morning. "Maybe friends want us to go on a beach outing?"

Francis Chun, one of Dad's co-workers at Shipfitter Shop 11 sounded excited as he asked, "Is your radio on? Pearl Harbor's been attacked by the Japanese. People saw the Rising Sun on the planes. Your dad has to report back to the shop immediately. It's an emergency situation."

I was stunned. Moments before I had been irritated to the point of frustration and griping about sounds that had interfered with my sleep. Now those sounds presented a new and startling revelation. Guilt feelings came over me as I conveyed the message to my father then rushed to turn on the radio. With the volume on "High" so my parents and sister could hear, too, I listened intently. The familiar voice of Web Edwards of station kGMB sounded anxious as he read name after name of doctors who had to report to strategic locations.

Defense workers from Pearl Harbor and elsewhere were ordered to return to their jobs immediately. Over and over the words were repeated, "This is no drill. This is the real McCoy."

How could Web Edwards convince his listeners that this was not another Orson Welles fantasy? How? He sounded desperate.

Dad, although retired from the Navy, was not typical of most Navy men when it came to swearing. This morning I heard him swear. By now, he was fully alert and dressing hurriedly. "I was just there. How could such a thing happen so quickly?"

Reports of the bombing were vague. It was not until later that facts were revealed. Not only was the huge naval shipyard hit but other major military bases such as Hickam Field, Wheeler, kaneohe suffered extensive damage. Certain sections of Honolulu were reported to be bombed. It was difficult for Dad, for Mom, for Betty and me, for everyone to comprehend that this was, indeed, "the real McCoy."

"Please remain in your homes. Only emergency vehicles are allowed on the streets." Now and then interludes of current hit songs followed announcements.

"Why are they playing 'Three Little Fishies'?" Even I thought it inappropriate when we were experiencing an emergency of this magnitude. "Why don't they play something more soothing? Why not a Hawaiian song?"

Dad told me to awaken my nineteen-year-old cousin who was living with us at the time. Our garage had been converted into sleeping quarters for Fred since our house was small and only had two bedrooms. He was my mother's deceased sister's oldest child who had left the Philippines and his five siblings and widowed father in July. My grandmother and Mom's brother and his family were there also.

Uncle George had written, "Trouble's brewing and war seems inevitable. Perhaps I should arrange for the rest of the family to leave, too." If only he could have foreseen what was in store for the Philippines after the Pearl Harbor attack.

My mother was born in Manila and after marriage, joined my father in California where my sister and I were born. Mom left my father and returned to the Philippines when I was three years old. Betty was about a year and a half. Almost five years later, after an unpredictable reconciliation, we joined my father in Honolulu. Needless to say, the marriage continued its stormy course due to my mother's neurotic personality.

At first she was not in favor of having my cousin live with us but finally gave in. Dad convinced Fred to remain in Hawaii to earn and save money before going directly to San Francisco as originally planned. He arranged to have Fred work as an apprentice shipfitter. He, too, had worked all night and was oblivious to the early morning sounds of December 7th, including my frantic calls. When he finally answered, it took him awhile to realize the seriousness of my message. The radio and background explosive sounds convinced him that he was not dreaming; there truly was an emergency situation such as we had never before experienced. "I wonder how many people in Hawaii ate a full breakfast this morning?" Tension was high. There was so much confusion and turmoil that little thought was given to stomachs and eating. Hunger had diminished at 3828 Paki Avenue. Dad and Fred were too tired, too keyed up to eat the breakfast that my mother had hurriedly prepared. "I'm anxious to get underway," said Dad. "I want to find out the details. I don't know when we'll be home, but I'm sure we'll have to work overtime, so don't worry."

We were concerned when we said goodbye as they departed for Pearl Harbor. The thought that they could be injured or killed; the uncertainty of everything was frightening. We would have worried more had we known that the raid that began at 7:55 AM would be followed by a second wave of planes at 8:40 AM. The bombing did not actually end until 10:00 AM. It was at that time that kGMB revealed that the Islands had been attacked.

Increased damage to our ships and bases resulted but this time our military was prepared. They fought back until enemy planes had dispersed. I was worried. "Are Dad and Fred still on the road? Are they at Pearl Harbor? Please, Lord, let them be safe." It happened that they were approaching the Main Gate and entering when the second attack took place. It was announced that practice air-raid alarms would be discontinued and it was comprehendible. Utter chaos would have been the consequence otherwise.

At 9:00 AM numerous announcements filled the air with fewer music interludes. I doubt that there was a person in Hawaii who objected. Music was inconsequential at a time like this. People wanted news. Every announcement was of significance and applied to all residents. Every report was important and newsworthy. We wanted to know the why and wherefore of the attack, the how of it. How? How could the mightiest nation in the world fall prey so easily to Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun? Questions were left unanswered that day. Even the military did not have the pertinent facts. It would be years before details of the attack would be complete.

My emotions on December 7th, 1941 were mixed. This was a new experience that was overwhelming. "How should one react to a war? What did the future hold?" My main concern was for Dad and Fred. They would be in the area where danger was greatest. I was uneasy about that. "What if the enemy returns and surrounds our island? We would become their prisoners; what then?" In spite of anxieties a certain amount of schoolgirl melodrama was involved. I considered the events somewhat challenging. "I wonder if others my age feel as I do?" The possibility of being raped by Japanese soldiers entered my mind and was of great concern to me. We were informed at 11:00 AM that schools on Oahu would be closed until further notice. Betty and I had been wondering about school. We had been looking forward to our Christmas vacation two weeks away. "Hooray, now we'll probably have a longer vacation."

Because of the bombing, military dependents from certain areas had to be evacuated including Navy dependents from the Naval Housing near Pearl Harbor. Schools had to be used as temporary shelters since there were so many evacuees.

Everyone relied on the radio for news; without the radio we would have known nothing. The Honolulu Star Bulletin printed an EXTRA edition that came out about 9:30 AM. On Army orders, radio stations kGU and kGMB, our two sources of information, left the airways at 11:40 AM. It was disclosed later that enemy aircraft were utilizing local radio beams as directional signals. Both stations returned for short intervals thereafter to broadcast military-approved announcements dealing with military and civilian defense.

At 4:25 PM Marshall Law was initiated under Governor Joseph Poindexter's proclamation; this meant that the civilian population of the Territory of Hawaii was now under military jurisdiction. A curfew was ordered and only those civilians who had legitimate excuses were allowed on the streets. Never did I see anyone being checked for credentials. The same applied to the regulation that all Japanese aliens had to remain in their homes after dark. There were many Americans of Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii. "How can they identify one from the other?" If a checking system was in effect I was never aware of it.

I was curious about our Japanese neighbor who lived two houses away in what was known as the Winstedt Mansion, (named after an architect/contractor, Carl Winstedt, who built it in 1918). "I'm certain that he's an alien." He could barely speak English when he moved to our neighborhood a year or so earlier. We were not mindful that he had moved in until he knocked at our front door with a cake in hand. "Goo' neighbo' gesju'," he said to my mother. It was a good neighbor gesture, but she was so taken aback at his sudden appearance that I don't recall that she thanked him. He tried to be neighborly but she was not receptive. The only time that we saw him after that was when he was chasing his two Great Danes after they had escaped the confines of his walled-in premises. We laughed at the sight of one of the dogs carrying a 'Beware of Dogs' sign. "I wonder why he has such ferocious animals?"

According to reports, on Saturday night, December 6th, 1941, high-ranking military officers from every branch of the service, attended numerous social gatherings throughout Oahu. After all these years, I still question our Japanese neighbor and the huge party that he held that very night. I recall that car after car parked in front of our house and up and down the street that evening. I watched as top brass paraded by in dress uniform accompanied by fashionably attired female companions. I was impressed and tried to persuade my mother and sister to view the fashion show with me. (Dad and Fred had left for the night shift at Shop 11.)

Betty and Mom were too comfortably settled on the couch to come to the window. We had done some shopping that afternoon before seeing The Great Dictator starring Charlie Chaplin. They were too tired. Finally, overcome by my oohing and aahing they gave in to their curiosity and left the comfort of the couch to join me.

News reporters referred to various parties held by Japanese dignitaries on the night of December 6th. The scene that I had witnessed the night before came to mind.

"Was that party part of the plot to have high-ranking U S military officers engaged in fun and merriment on the night of December 6th so they would sleep in on Sunday, December 7th 1941?"

It was ironic that the Washington, DC investigation cited those parties. Had they checked out the Paki Avenue event? Oh, well, more than likely my suspicions were unjustified. "Perhaps I've read too many Nancy Drew books."

Another event was brought to mind that Sunday when I assumed the role of amateur sleuth. I thought about the Japanese passenger liner that had docked at Pier 8 in Honolulu Harbor on Saturday, November 1st. "That was just a few weeks ago." I recalled that I had commented about the untidy appearance of the Japanese sailors who had disembarked. They walked past my parents and sister and I in the Aloha Tower area. "Their uniforms are tattletale gray," I whispered to my father.

"That's because they don't use Oxydol," he jokingly replied. (Oxydol was a popular soap of that era.)

At the time I had no questions to ask; now I did. "Why was that ship in Honolulu at that particular time? Why were Navy sailors aboard a passenger ship?" No reference was made to the liner in wartime newspapers or on the radio. For years I searched for answers. I wondered about that ship. I mentioned it to adults whenever the subject of the attack came up. No one felt that it was worthy of discussion so I finally abandoned my suspicions concluding that the visit had been insignificant; that no ulterior motives were involved.

The visit of the Japanese liner, Taiyo Maru to Honolulu Harbor on Saturday, November 1st, 1941 was significant.

Gordon Prange, author of At Dawn We Slept, spent thirtyseven years researching the cause and effects of the Pearl Harbor attack. An entire chapter was devoted to the pre-War visit of three liners including the one that I had questioned for so long. Words can't express my excitement as I delved further into the chapter. My suspicions and curiosity were justified.

According to Author Prange, the Taiyo Maru had docked in Honolulu at 0830 that morning. She had traveled all the way to Hawaii with her radio transmitter silent so that Japanese naval officers were able to observe early morning conditions around Oahu. It was the approximate time of the pending attack. The island scene was surveyed on a Sunday, the day of the scheduled assault. It was noted that skies were free of U S training or bombing planes as seen on other days. Pearl Harbor could be seen with binoculars. It was amazing how precise the enemy was in their observations.

When the liner docked that Saturday in November, two important naval officers were aboard. Cdr. Toshide Maejima was a senior member of the Japanese Naval General Staff. He was an expert on submarines but assumed another name in the role of doctor. He had to be thorough in studying certain phases of the medical profession should authorities come aboard and inquire. Unfortunately, they didn't have the common sense to do so.

Lt. Cdr. Suguru Suzuki was a skillful aviation officer who had dedicated thirteen months to the Intelligence Section of the Naval General Staff. He was the other important naval officer aboard and was assigned the duty of studying U S air power and carrier warfare. He was listed as assistant purser on the passenger list.

Nagao kita, the Japanese Consul General in Honolulu, met aboard ship with the two officers and other special agents. Why didn't American counterintelligence suspect that secret activities were being conducted? Why? Gordon Prange's reasoning was that they were too preoccupied with returning and outgoing passengers. "Weren't there enough military and government officials in the Islands to check secret activities and returning and outgoing passengers?"


Excerpted from GAS MASKS AND PALM TREES by Virginia Melville Cowart Copyright © 2006 by Virginia Melville Cowart. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER I Rude Awakening....................11
CHAPTER II Shipmates Forever....................21
CHAPTER III There'll Be Some Changes Made....................27
CHAPTER IV Pearl Harbor Survivor....................33
CHAPTER V Wolves in Ships' Clothing....................37
CHAPTER VI Paradise Lost....................41
CHAPTER VII We Must Be Vigilant....................45
CHAPTER VIII I Could Have Danced All Day....................49
CHAPTER IX Carlson's Raiders....................53
CHAPTER X As Time Went By....................57
CHAPTER XI I'm In The Navy Now....................61
CHAPTER XII RPIO, Pearl Harbor....................65
CHAPTER XIII Going My Way?....................73
CHAPTER XIV An Old Fashioned Girl....................77
CHAPTER XV Food For Thought....................81
CHAPTER XVI Age Of Innocence....................85
CHAPTER XVII On The Street Where I Lived....................87
CHAPTER XVIII Ninety-day Wonder....................91
CHAPTER XIX Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus....................93
CHAPTER XX The Rain and I....................95
CHAPTER XXI Hail, Hail, Roosevelt....................99
CHAPTER XXII Graduation Day....................103
CHAPTER XXIII Back To "Pearl"....................107
CHAPTER XXIV A String of Pearls....................111
CHAPTER XXV Games Women Play....................117
CHAPTER XXVII Communications....................125
CHAPTER XXVIII Waitin' At The Church....................131
CHAPTER XXIX It's President Roosevelt....................137
CHAPTER XXX On Second Thought....................141
CHAPTER XXXI After I'd Gone....................151
CHAPTER XXXII I Love Hawaii....................159
Facts and Sources....................169
List of Illustrations....................171
Stoop Pictures....................172, 173

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Gas Masks & Palm Trees: My Wartime Hawaii 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*is carried away*