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07 December 2020

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941: an eyewitness account

Lavinia Cresap in 1941

Today, December 7, is the 79th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It killed more than 2,400 Americans, wounded more than 1,000 and drew the United States into the Second World War. Lavinia Cresap, mother of CGS member Lavinia Schwarz, was at the time working as an office secretary in Hawaii. She witnessed the attack first hand and wrote about it in her diary, leaving a vivid account of what it was like to be on the ground in those days of terror and uncertainly. Vinnie has graciously shared these excerpts from her mother's December 1941 diary, along with a photo and news clipping. 

From her diary: Honolulu, T.H. - Dec. 7th, 1941

“It couldn’t happen here!” - did we say that? Yet it has and we have come through a day and night that none of us dreamed about. Right now I am writing in the darkness of a schoolroom - sitting beside the window watching the occasional trucks go by and listening to the restlessness inside. It is a very long night and everything is in complete darkness; not a light of any sort inside or out. The trucks that go by are just moving masses on the road. And it is storming, windy and raining, but the moon is full and occasionally comes from behind the clouds and makes things very clear. Here in the room we are sleeping under desks and tables of every description with a blanket beneath us and just coats and sweaters over us. It is about four o’clock and all the children are finally sleeping but most of the women are awake and talking and joking. At last all the crying has stopped. I think that has been the most trying thing this night – and yet you just can’t spank them at a time like this, and for the most part the children have been very good. It is still hard to believe what has happened and realize that this is only the beginning. I find it so hard to comprehend. Such a complete surprise! This morning we were awakened by planes flying over the houses, very low, and guns popping and bombs falling. It was eight o’clock and all were still in bed taking advantage of Sunday morning. Everyone thought it was a practice of some sort.

A news article mentions
Lavinia Cresap's quick action
on December 7
We rushed out of the house in robes to watch the proceedings, watch the bombs falling. I kept saying to Carl - “I didn’t know there was a practice bombing field on the other side of Wheeler!” Then the planes flying over our houses started machine gunning the houses and the bullets dug into the ground and walls around us. Only Col. McNair rushed out of his house across the street completely outfitted shouting, “It’s the Japanese – can’t you see the rising suns on the planes!” And we thought “Oh, it couldn’t be!”

Carl dressed immediately and dashed up to the headquarters. Two minutes later he dashed back, “It is the real thing! Guess I won’t be back for lunch.” He packed a few things and was off again. No sooner had he left, when around came the messengers telling us to take a warm coat and a blanket and go immediately to the Saliport of the 21st.


 ... To read more of Lavinia's diary, click HERE.


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