World War II Comes to Fort Shafter

By Dave Hilkert on December 8, 2009 1:32pm

On December 7, 2009, our Nation commemorated the 68th Anniversary of the Day of Infamy, which thrust America into World War II. At Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where veterans of the USS Oklahoma, Utah, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and other ships of the Pacific Fleet remembered their participation on that fateful day. At Kaneohe Marine Base, 100 year-old Lieutenant John Finn, surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor for his role in defending Kaneohe (then a Naval Air Base) with a .50 caliber machine gun, received honors. As part of a larger effort to preserve Ewa Field, the site of Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, a commemoration ceremony was held Dec. 6th.

Fort Shafter sustained only very minor damages during the Japanese attack on Oahu. It did not suffer the enormous loss of life of Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field and other military installations on the island. The post still served an important role as the Army’s headquarters for defending the Hawaiian Islands.

War came suddenly to Fort Shafter on that fateful 7th day in December 1941. At the Temporary Information Center in the Signal Corps Area (now Fort Shafter Flats), Private Joe McDonald and Lieutenant Kermit Tyler received a report from radar operators, Privates Joseph Lockard and George Elliot. The two operators, calling from the Opana Radar Site at Kahuku Point on Oahu’s North Shore, reported that they detected approaching aircraft at 7:02 a.m. while practicing with their new equipment. Based on the direction of the flight pattern and the timing, and unaware of the number of planes, Tyler assumed that the inbound planes were a group of B-17 bombers scheduled to arrive that morning. Shortly after 8 a.m., Lieutenant Tyler learned that Wheeler Field and Pearl Harbor were under attack.

Meanwhile, on Palm Circle that morning at 7:55, Lieutenant General Short’s aide-de-camp, Captain Louis Truman, had finished dressing for a Sunday morning golf game at the Fort Shafter Golf Course with his boss and Admiral Husband Kimmel of the Pacific Fleet when he heard explosions. As he ran from his quarters and went next door to the Hawaiian Department headquarters (Building 13, site of the present-day Gazebo), he spotted a Zero fighter banking over the headquarters and over the flagpole on Palm Circle.

The plane was close enough that Truman could see the pilot’s face and he noticed the large red circle (used by the Japanese) on the plane. The pilot was not firing and Truman thought that the Zero was probably conducting a reconnaissance for a possible later attack on Fort Shafter. After warning his wife to go immediately to Quarters 5 for shelter, he also warned their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Marston (the wife of Colonel Morrill W. Marston, the Hawaiian Department G-4), who was busy watering flowers around her quarters. Truman then accompanied Lieutenant General Short and Major Swede Henderson from Fort Shafter to the Hawaiian Department Command Post (CP) at the nearby Aliamanu crater. The CP was a former ammunition depot located in a tunnel converted into offices and sleeping quarters for officer and enlisted Soldiers, complete with kitchens, toilets, and mess halls.

As Captain Truman responded to the Japanese plane and the sound of explosions, Larry Haslett, an Army photographer with the 9th Signal Service Company, was in his barracks, Building T-122, on Palm Circle. Some fellow Soldiers excitedly told him about a Japanese plane flying over Fort Shafter. As the Japanese plane passed over Palm Circle, Haslett raced out of the building and spotted the plane, but did not have his camera with him. He ran to the photo lab at the bottom of the hill off Palm Circle (now the site of a parking lot in back of T-100 on present-day Carter Drive) to grab his camera, but lost the first opportunity to photograph the Japanese flying over Fort Shafter. Haslett jumped in a car and raced over to Pearl Harbor, where he photographed the catastrophe there.

The Hawaiian Department’s Chemical Officer, Lieutenant Colonel George F. Unmacht, was having breakfast that morning when he saw attacking Japanese planes. He quickly reported to the Hawaiian Department headquarters and directed Major James M. McMillin, the Commanding Officer of the Hawaiian Chemical Warfare Depot at Schofield Barracks, to start issuing service gas masks to all departmental troops, then equipped with training masks. Many of the leaders gathered at the headquarters on Palm Circle feared the Japanese would make further air attacks and these attacks would include the use of chemical weapons.

Staff Sergeant William P. Garrett served as the Fort Shafter Chief Operator and was assigned to the 9th Signal Company. He lived in the Fort Shafter telephone exchange with one other communicator in order to respond to communications problems on a 24/7 basis. On the night of Dec. 6, 1941, Garrett spent the night with a friend who lived in the Damon Tract. The next morning, as they prepared to go to the beach, they saw planes flying over with the Rising Sun symbol on them. Garrett thought it odd but concluded the Navy must be having maneuvers.

After discovering that Pearl Harbor was under attack, Garrett and his friend reported back for duty at Fort Shafter, where his unit armorer issued weapons for the telephone exchange personnel. They also drew explosives in case they had to evacuate and destroy the exchange to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. The group of signal Soldiers soon moved, along with telephones, installation material and tools, to the nearby Aliamanu Crater, where they manned the Hawaiian Department Battle Command Post. The command post was located in a series of interconnecting concrete tunnels. The signal group remained at Aliamanu for about one week. Upon their return, with the certainty of imminent forward deployment in the Pacific Theater, Garrett interviewed, hired and then trained a group of about 10 to 12 women to take over the switchboard operations at Fort Shafter.

Peter D’Andrea, a Fort Shafter Soldier assigned to the 53rd Intelligence Battery, served as an antiaircraft observer for the 64th Coast Artillery. He recalled his tour of duty at Fort Shafter as: ‘‘everything was rosy to me. I was in the Garden of Eden, Hawaii, paradise.” Corporal D’Andrea expected to work his regular shift out at Observation Point 11 (overlooking Pearl Harbor) the morning of Dec. 7. Instead of searching the skies for enemy aircraft, he had the morning off and remained at Fort Shafter. ‘‘I woke up and I went in to take a shower, and then I was headed to the mess hall and all the planes came over. I recognized it as Japanese immediately.” He recalled that many Soldiers fired at the sky with their Springfield rifles.

--From a Telephonic oral history interview with Peter D’Andrea, by David E. Hilkert, Command Historian, U.S. Army, Pacific, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, Dec. 21, 2006, transcribed by Major Eric Nager.

In the 64th Coast Artillery cantonment area many other Soldiers first thought the sounds of explosions were part of “an exceptionally realistic Sunday morning target practice.” Those thoughts quickly vanished when a Soldier came running through the Battery E area shouting, “They are attacking Pearl Harbor!”

Soldiers of the 64th Coast Artillery dashed out from their barracks in the 1914 regimental cantonment area to man their antiaircraft guns on the parade field across Wisser Road. In the rush out to the big guns, the Soldiers left their Springfield 1903 rifles behind in their racks in the barracks. In the first lull, Corporal Arthur Favreau of Battery E and one Soldier from his squad, Private Richard (“Dick”) Ferguson, were in the office of their battery commander listening to the radio. Favreau received an order to take a detail back to the barracks to bring the rifles out to the men. He turned to Private Ferguson, ordered him to toss him the keys to the rifle racks, which were hanging on a bulletin board near Ferguson. Ferguson complied and Favreau left the office to unlock the rifle racks. As Corporal Favreau unlocked the rifle racks, a 5-inch naval antiaircraft shell from Pearl Harbor crashed into the barracks, killing him, and wounding Corporal George Harper, who hailed from Ottawa, Kan.; Private First Class Arlie Martin, of Ark.; and Private Joseph Stimatz, from Oak Park, Ill. Another shell hit the nearby Hawaiian Ordnance Depot (which later became part of Fort Shafter). Corporal Favreau died from his wounds while being carried to the Post Dispensary. His friend and squad member, Dick Ferguson, later recalled that the corporal was “conscious enough to make the physical sign of the Cross and that he died with a prayer on his lips.”

Just after 9 a.m., across King Street at Tripler General Hospital, doctors and nurses arrived in response to an urgent Army request for help. Ten minutes later, eight aid stations were ready to receive casualties from the attack. At 9:20, the hospital dispatched 45 truck-ambulances to Hickam Field for the first casualties. The first casualty from the Japanese attack actually arrived at Tripler 10 minutes after the raid began. Tripler was quickly overwhelmed by several hundred wounded from Hickam and Pearl Harbor. So many casualties flowed into Tripler that by the time the raid was over the wounded were placed on litters on the floors, in the halls, and in the corridors.

Fortunately, the defense plan developed by the Army identified several civilian locations in Honolulu for emergency medical care in the event of war, and by the afternoon of Dec. 7, Tripler moved its headquarters and 200 wounded to nearby Farrington High School in accordance with the Oahu Defense Plan. Between 8:15 and 11:45 a.m., 482 battle casualties came through the hospital. The casualties at Tripler were 138 dead, 336 in wards, and 8 in surgery by 1 p.m.

As the wounded Soldiers, sailors, and marines poured into the military hospitals on Oahu, the Fort Shafter Chaplain, John K. Connelly, also responded to attend to casualties. Only a few hours earlier that morning at 8, Chaplain Connelly conducted Catholic Mass in the chapel, then located on Chappelear Road. The chapel was crowded to capacity and as he prepared to deliver his sermon, he heard a large amount of gunfire. Like many others attending that Service, he thought the sound came from maneuvers being conducted nearby. Chaplain Connelly assured his congregation that the sounds should not alarm them and then completed the sermon and Mass. In the last few minutes of the Mass, a runner entered the chapel and whispered something to one of the attendees, Captain Chester Diestel. Captain Diestel then got up and spoke to another attendee, Major William Griffin. The two officers then departed the chapel hurriedly. Following the Mass, as Chaplain Connelly removed his vestments, Captain Diestel returned and informed him the news of the Japanese attack. As the chaplain secured the chapel and went down the hill to the Cantonment parade ground, he noticed antiaircraft guns in position in that area. Seeing black smoke and planes in the area of Pearl Harbor, since Chaplain Connelly was also assigned as the chaplain to Tripler General Hospital, he concluded that his pastoral care would be needed there. He arrived at the hospital, then located across King Street from the main part of Fort Shafter, about 9:30 and saw hundreds of casualties lined up on the ramps in front of the wards. He immediately anointed dying Catholics and provided what help he could to those of the Protestant and Jewish faiths.

Throughout the day, Chaplain Connelly went back and forth between the hospital and the main part of post, where he attended to men in the Coast Artillery batteries. He also visited the shelter tunnels, where wives and children had been evacuated. When he reached the second tunnel, he learned one pregnant woman was going into labor. He arranged for her evacuation by means of a quartermaster truck (all ambulances were responding to battle casualties) and the woman delivered the baby at Tripler without complications. Fort Shafter Soldiers were quick to care for their Family Members on Dec. 7. Buses went through Palm Circle and the other Housing Areas to pick them up and take them to the evacuation tunnels.

In the conclusion of his report, Chaplain Connelly noted that “every officer, enlisted man, every nurse, went about his or her job in a most efficient and level-headed manner, which speaks well of the Army of the United States and its personnel.”

--From an account by Chaplain John K. Connelly, “A Brief History of the Experiences and Activities of the Post Chaplain, Fort Shafter, T.H. During the Japanese Attack on Dec. 7, 1941,” (Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii: Office of the Post Chaplain, Sept. 10, 1942).


Dave Hilkert

Command Historian

1. SGT William P.  Garrett at Fort Shafter  2. Damage to barracks, Battery E, 64th Coast Artillery ca. 1941  3. Recruits training at Fort Shafter with outdated 1903 Springfield rifles, ca. 1941 (Courtesy Clarence Lane, Fort Shafter veteran)
  4. CPL Arthur Favreau