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Life in the Hawaiian Islands During WWII

Japan’s method of declaring war on the US was a four-wave air attack on installations in Hawaiʻi on the morning of December 7, 1941. It was executed in what amounted to five phases.

Phase I: Combined torpedo and dive bomber attack lasting from 7:55 am to 8:25 am; Phase II: Lull in attacks lasting from 8:25 am to 8:40 am; Phase III: Horizontal bomber attacks between 8:45 am to 9:15 am; Phase IV: Dive bomber attacks between 9:15 am and 9:45 am and Phase V: General attack. Raid completed at 9:45.  (Maj Gen Green)

The first order of business was the issuance of orders immediately essential to the internal security of the Hawaiian Islands. The next was providing means for enforcing those orders.  (Maj Gen Green)  Later in the morning, the Army’s commanding officer met with Hawaiʻi’s Territorial Governor.

“General, I have thought it through. I feel that the situation is beyond me and the civil authorities and I think the safety of the Territory and its citizens require me to declare martial law.”  (Governor Joseph Boyd Poindexter to General Walter Campbell Short, December 7, 1941; Green)

“He asked General Short if he concurred in his conclusion and General Short said that he did. The Governor then asked General Short if he would accept the responsibility and General Short replied that he saw no other way out.  Whereupon, the Governor stated that he would declare martial law and inform the President in accordance with Section 67 of the Organic Act.”

The men arose, shook hands and the Governor said, “I wish you luck.”  (Maj Gen Green)

A rush of nationalism surged over the country, and everyone did his or her part to support the war effort. Children collected scrap materials, such as rubber and metal, to help supply the armed forces.  (Taylor)Tens of thousands of young men from Hawaiʻi enlisted and were shipped out to bases on the US mainland and to fight in Europe and the Pacific. In their absence, over 500,000 soldiers from outside Hawaii were based in the Islands at the height of the war.  (PBS)

Immediately after the attack, Boy Scouts helped to extinguish fires that resulted from the attack, transported supplies and messages, went door to door informing residents of the blackout policy and even stood as sentries on roadways.

Day-to-day life during World War II, whether on the continent or in the Hawaiian Islands, changed.  Hundreds of general orders were issued under the name of the commanding general.

Martial law with its seemingly endless string of rules and regulations dictated minute details of daily life, setting limits on things that were once part of daily life: curfews, registration, blackouts, drills, rationing, air raid sirens, censorship … detention (for some.)

The Army also instituted a 6 pm to 6 am curfew for anyone not on official business and drew up intelligence reports on 450,000-people in Hawaiʻi.  Every citizen over the age of six years was fingerprinted, registered and issued an identification card.

The military ordered a strictly enforced nighttime blackout. Anyone caught with a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar during the blackout was subject to arrest, as was anyone else if the light of their radio dial or kitchen stove burner could be seen through the house windows.

Homes, schools and businesses were directed to prepare bomb shelters. Everyone was issued a protective gas mask and students were trained in their use and conducted drills where an Army officer would fill a classroom with tear gas and have the students walk through to be sure their masks were functioning properly.  (Taylor)

Gasoline was rationed, the possession of arms was prohibited to unauthorized persons, radio transmitting sets and short wave sets were regulated, photo materials were rationed and the local telephone company was taken over to insure the maximum availability of it to the military.    (Maj Gen Green)

Food was rationed; sugar was the first food to be rationed.  Across the country, to prevent hoarding and skyrocketing prices, the Office of Price Administration issued 123-million copies of War Ration Book One, which contained stamps that could be used to purchase sugar.

Because the islands were so isolated, shipping and receiving supplies, and even mail, became a logistical nightmare.  To supplement food needs, Americans planted “victory gardens,” in which they grew their own food.

Transportation between the islands and the mainland was stopped.  Only those needed to fill positions in the islands were allowed to travel.  (Taylor)

All outgoing mail was read by military censors, and letters that could not be edited with black ink or scissors were returned to the sender to be rewritten. Long-distance telephone calls were required to be in English so that military personnel could listen in.  (White & Murphy)

Fearing that Japanese invaders might try to disrupt US currency, the military confiscated and burned more than $200-million in US paper money, and replaced it with bills with HAWAII overprinted on them.

In addition, people in Hawaiʻi were forbidden to make bank withdrawals of more than $200 in cash per month or to carry more than $200 in cash. (White & Murphy)

Japanese in Hawaiʻi had it worst.  Many Japanese Americans were incarcerated in at least eight locations on Hawaiʻi.  They were put in these camps, not because they had been tried and found guilty of something, but because either they or their parents or ancestors were from Japan and, as such, they were deemed a “threat” to national security.

In the Islands, between 1,200 and 1,400 local Japanese were interned, along with about 1,000 family members – 120,000 people were interned on the continent.  (Not a single Japanese American in Hawaiʻi was ever convicted of espionage, treason or sedition.) (NPS)

Although originally it was believed that martial law would last only a short time, it lasted for almost three years. After it was terminated, curfews and blackouts still remained in effect until October 24, 1944.  (Schneider)

To get a glimpse of conditions in the Islands at the time, read and see ‘Under the Blood Red Sun,’ written by Graham (Sandy) Salisbury.  (Nelia reads the book to her 5th grade class each year at Kainalu.)

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