On December 7, 1941, my father, Ben C. Fritz, then 33, was an aircraft engine electrician with the Hawaiian Air Depot Volunteer Corps at Hickam Field. The night before the Japanese raid he had been out on the town with some friends from our hometown assigned to the USS Arizona. They went home around 4 a.m. and never saw each other again.
The morning of the 7th, Dad was awakened by a series of explosions. “Everyone jumped out of bed,” he wrote in his log. “I looked out of the back door and saw a pursuit plane banking around in the air about a hundred yards in the distance. The pilot was looking around. There were big red spots on the sides and wings of the plane. I was looking at the ‘Rising Sun of Japan,’ but I didn’t realize it. I couldn’t realize that it was a raid—and War—until I saw a plane with a red spot going down in a sheet of flames over Pearl Harbor.”
Dad stayed in Hawaii for a few more months, then returned home. He kept items related to his experience in his footlocker. I remember him pulling them out once to explain them to me,
but he didn’t often talk about his experiences; he died in 1996.
The item I am most curious about is a roughly three-by-three-inch piece of red painted metal, perforated with three holes. He said he snipped it off one of the Rising Sun markings on a downed Japanese aircraft. Have you seen such souvenirs before? And are those bullet holes?
Thank you. —Drew Fritz,
Aircraft fragments were common souvenirs, and the bold red markings of the Japanese Hinomaru, or “circle of the sun,” were particularly sought after. We have a similar item in a collection here at the museum, a wallet-sized fragment of a Japanese aircraft downed over Midway Island collected by a Marine stationed there during the battle. The piece is all red and had clearly been removed from one of the national insignia markings on the aircraft. The reverse side is translucent green due to the thin coat of green or blue primer applied to bare metal surfaces of Japanese aircraft at the factory.
To my knowledge, of the 29 Japanese aircraft lost during the Pearl Harbor raid, the aircraft downed in closest proximity to your father and Hickam Field was an A6M Zero fighter from the carrier Akagi, piloted by Petty Officer 1st Class Takashi Hirano. While accounts vary, it is widely accepted that Hirano’s aircraft was damaged while strafing Hickam Field. Hirano attempted to belly-land his damaged aircraft but instead clipped a tree and slammed into a machine shop at nearby Fort Kamehameha, killing himself and four soldiers on the ground. Souvenir hunters descended on the aircraft almost immediately until the fighter was placed under guard and later transported to a hangar at Hickam Field for technical evaluation.
While it may be impossible to verify the specific aircraft that was the source of this three-by-three-inch piece of aluminum, Takashi Hirano’s Zero seems a good bet. My guess is that the holes are from the rivets that secured the skin to the frame of the aircraft.
—Larry Decuers, Curator ✯