Friday, December 7, 2018

My Dad's Pearl Harbor Story

Dad and his boys (and new Buick convertible), 1957. (Photo by Mom.)
On this day in 1941, J. K. 'Ken' Cowdery (my father) was in the Army stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. This is his account of that morning. He wrote it in 1991, for the 50th anniversary, for our local newspaper the Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). It was later published in the AARP magazine. Dad died in September, 2010, age 90.

This is just one of his stories from that fateful day. I heard them all about 100 times but it never got old. He had an amazing memory. How he got to Hawaii is quite a story too, as is what happened next, but I'll leave it at this for now.

Sunday, December 7, 1941, dawned bright and clear at Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii. At least I assume that it did because it was bright and clear when I got up at about 7:45.

To get breakfast I had to be in the chow line out behind the barracks before 8:00. I made it.

Someone noticed a column of smoke coming from the vicinity of Wheeler Field, the fighter field, south of our location. There were comments and conjecture that the fly boys must be having some kind of exercise and that one of them had cracked up.

At about the same time we noticed a line of planes coming over Kole Kole Pass, which was about three miles northwest of us and in full view because there was nothing in the way. Our barracks was the furthest northwest barracks on the post. As the first plane in the line passed overhead I could not only see the red circle markings on the plane but could see the pilot's face, he came in so low that he cleared the two story barracks by about 5 or 6 feet.

At that point he also started his guns. We never did figure out why he didn't start strafing a few seconds sooner and try to get some of the 30 or 40 guys in the chow line. I have no idea what the second plane in the line did, by the time he got there I was long gone.

We all made for cover, I went into the building via the back door to the kitchen. The kitchen was about 20 feet wide by about 30 feet long. Just inside the back door, to the right, was the walk-in cooler. I hit the floor at the far end of the cooler, putting the cooler between me and the line of fire.

There must have been several planes in the line as the firing kept up for quite a long time--at least it seemed like a long time. After the firing stopped everything was completely silent, there was not a sound. I wondered if I was the only one still alive.

There was a line of preparation tables down the center of the room, with equipment and utensil storage drawers below, and ranges along the far wall at the other end of the room. Looking around I could not see another human being, everyone was obviously hugging the floor. Then I saw a hand rise up, pick up a spatula, turn over two eggs frying on the range, then replace the spatula and again disappear.

Regardless of the circumstances, duty comes first.

I might add at this point that this was the 90th Field Artillery Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division, a Regular Army outfit.

When it seemed that the attack was over and people started stirring again I grabbed a plate, claimed the eggs, and sat down to eat my breakfast.


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Mr. Cowdery, I hope the season treats you well and I wish you a happy, prosperous and healthy New year.
Monica F.

Rodney said...

Chuck, Mahalo for sharing this. I grew up in Wahiawa, Oahu - the town right outside Schofield Barracks and Wheeler AFB.From the house I grew up in we had a clear view of Kole Kole Pass. I was born in the early 50's but of course I grew up hearing so many stories from local Wahiawa residents about that Sunday morning. Stories from soldiers stationed there at Schofield on Dec 7th are few and far between and so I really appreciated you posting this memory treasure from your dad. I know the base pretty well and there are several buildings from that day that still have machine gun bullet holes from the Japanese planes that strafed the base. Your dad's share of the cook turning eggs over in the middle of the attack is just too precious for words... 25th Infantry Division - "Tropic Lightning". Hats off to your dad! So glad he came through the war safely and with his delightful sense of humor intact.