From the July 2007 issue: Two Letters Frame the Moment Paradise Lost Its Innocence
“There is a pineapple field right outside our window,” twenty-four-year-old Guy Bair wrote in an October 17, 1941, letter to his mother, describing a lush island oasis of palm trees, tropical flowers, and cloud-encircled mountains. Bair was working in Honolulu, Hawaii, with the Civilian Construction Corps to help build, in his words, “a fuel base for the entire Pacific fleet.” His letter went on to detail leisurely days of swimming at the beach, soaking in the abundant sunshine, and attending a luau. But some of his words foreshadowed a change soon to come to the idyllic setting. “According to the papers here, our relations with Japan are very strained,” he noted. “But Japan hasn’t a chance,” Bair went on to write:
She must take the Phillipines first, then there’s five or six outlying islands between here and the Phillipines—all naval bases and fortified before she gets here. Then this island takes no chances. The island is really fortified. You can see giant search lights searching the sky all night (just practice of course). I guess there are anti-aircraft guns there too, but you could never find them. We have a black out about once a week….
My opinion would be that we will have no trouble with Japan unless she strikes Russia in the back. That seems to be the general opinion. So just don’t pass any of this on as you know how gossip grows.
They have given us no instructions about writing information but you can’t tell. We have been finger printed about 10 different times and have had to fill out about four different questionnaires of our personal history, to the time we were born and also that of our parents and all of our relation. So if any one should ask, you and dad were English. I don’t know what I am so I just put English which is correct in your case. Anyhow I don’t think its any of their damned business as long as I am an American, but they want to be sure.
I must go to work now so will close.
At the very time that Bair was writing home, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo of the Imperial Japanese Navy was preparing his carrier battle group to embark for Pearl Harbor. On December 7, the main Japanese air strike came just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time, leaving more than 2,400 American service members (as well as an estimated 50 civilians, including one infant) dead and more than 1,170 wounded. Sixty-four Japanese troops were killed and one was captured. Five days after the attack, Bair wrote the following:
I haven’t received a letter from you for quite some time, but I’m writing you a note anyway.
As you probably know by now, we had quite a bit of excitement Sunday morning. The main object of the bombing was the Harbor. It is just a short distance from camp so we all had a ring side seat. I was asleep when the first attack came. The anti-aircraft shells awakened me. I just said, “The damned navy practicing again.” and went back to sleep. They sounded rather close tho and shook the buildings when they went off. Pretty soon my roommate came in and said, “Are you going to sleep all day? They’re bombing the Harbor.”
I said “Don’t give me that B.S. That’s just practice.”
He said “Practice Hell! They’ve blown up some of the ships.”
I still wouldn’t believe it. I got up and stepped out on the porch to see. Several fires were burning, planes were flying overhead and the anti-A shells were bursting in air. I still wouldn’t believe it. I came in and turned on the radio. The excitement and fright in the announcer’s voice assured me that it was the real thing.
Then he announced “The island of Oahu is under enemy attack. Be calm! Everything is under control.”
The second raid came about 30 minutes later. The army and Navy were prepared for them then and they didn’t do much damage. It was just like watching a movie. You couldn’t believe it was real. While all this was going on, three guys were sitting on the sidewalk shooting craps. One fellow in camp was hurt by a piece of falling shrapnel from our own guns. One was hit by a bullet and died yesterday….
They only killed about 50 civilians. I don’t know how many soldiers & sailors, but it was quite a few. You can get more news there than we can here. We get most of our news from the mainland. Our stations here have been turned over to police service. Today tho, I am listening to some music for the first time since Sunday.
We live in complete blackout at nite. We are all under Martial law now and they are very strict. The Marines shoot at all lights….
We are working as usual, and everything is going along fine, so don’t worry. We will probably be here as long as the war lasts. It is now considered treason to quit our job. They won’t even take you from this job into the service unless you are in the reserves. I have no idea what the future will bring, but where ever I can be of most service to my country, is where I want to be. I think everyone is determined that the sailors and soldiers who died Sunday will not have died in vain. Many sailors really showed what patriotism is Sunday. The anti-aircraft guns were still shooting as the ship was turning over and sinking. It takes a lot of patriotism to put loyalty above self preservation. My attitude towards a sailor is a lot different now. So is a lot of peoples’.
Elmer Rose is over here some where I don’t know where tho. He is a Major now. He was undoubtedly in the bombing as they got every airfield here.
Everything here is on the alert now so I don’t think we will have a repitition of Sunday’s attack. So don’t worry as I am as safe here as can be expected. Think nothing of it if you don’t here from me as communications are limited here.
Mail service is secret and very indefinite. But write! I’ll get it sometime. Well, I must close, as I’ve got 16 hours to put in. We work 16 & off 32. Did you get my telegram.
Lots of love—Guy
P.S. I’m going to buy a typewriter tomorrow then I can write in the dark. Not too much daylight.
Guy Bair joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and survived the war. He died in 2000 at the age of eighty-two.