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 Pearl Harbor's Final Warning
Chapter 15  RCA-Honolulu

7 December 1941

     At 7 a.m. the first of two motorcycle messenger boys arrived at RCA, as per the Sunday schedule.  “Many complaints had been received by the RCA office because messages were delivered “too early and experience showed that starting out between 8:30 and 9 a.m. was satisfactory,” a justifiable nod to island living according to George.     The messenger sorted  the morning and late-night dispatches into the appropriate delivery slots before heading out on his assigned route--those marked ‘rush or urgent’ placed at the top for priority delivery. He usually had everything organized within an hour or so, ready to take off by the time the second delivery boy arrived. Forty-five minutes into his sorting, he soon discovered there was nothing routine about this day.  George, on the phone with Bill Steed, describes what happens next:

     "All of our five incoming switchboard lines were jammed with local people seeking confirmation of the       bombing. I told Steed to hang on to our connection and try to get through to the Police station for v         verification. The Police Building was two or three stories with a cupola and from the roof, Pearl Harbor     could be seen.

   At the moment there was a loud explosion and Steed said to wait so he went outside to have a look and      came back a moment or two later and said he thought a bomb or shell had landed at a nearby building      (Later it was found to be a U.S.A. anti-aircraft shell that damaged the wall on the rear side of the          Bishop Bank Bldg).

     While Steed was doing this, the switchboard girl got through to the Police, and they verified the situation. About 8:11a.m. I dictated over the telephone an XQ (urgent intra-company service note) addressed to the RCA Supervisor on Duty, San Francisco: Japanese planes are bombing our naval ships in Pearl Harbor. Suggest advising all broadcast networks and forward this XQ on to Supervisors New York and Washington—Street. (This may not be the exact text, but my dictated text was short and to the point.)

     Our San Francisco office had direct wire lines on their patch-over board to Columbia, National, and the Mutual Broadcasting companies. I believe I also included in the original XQ to also notify ASSd Px [Associated Press] and Unipress as SF also had direct lines to those organizations. I kept no copy of this note but believe it was the first word that the broadcasting companies had of the happening."

    At 8:15 a.m., the second messenger, Japanese-American, Tadao Fuchikami, Messenger Boy #9, arrived on his Indian Scout motorbike to begin his normal deliveries. Like everyone else, he thought routine maneuvers were being conducted when he heard explosions on his way to the office. He quickly learned otherwise.  The Japanese had come in like a flight of hawks looking for their prey when they found the ships at bay.[1]

 Still on the phone with George, Bill confirmed   the messenger boys were ready and willing to make their deliveries. George Street recalls:

"I told him [Bill Steed] to keep the Honolulu-San Francisco circuit in operation and to continue all other activities unless there were physical interruptions and that the messengers were to go out, if possible, on their delivery routes. I was already aware from having been on a businessmen’s committee of about 16 or 18 that held meetings conducted by Colonel Melvin Craig (recently transferred back to the mainland) about possible sabotage, blackouts, etc. So my immediate concern was how to be able to keep our facilities open."

 So  Fuchikami went to the big pigeon-hole board and grabbed the radiograms from the slot marked Kalihi. Radiogram 1549 was one of the 12 to 18 messages he was to deliver on his first run of the day--- five or six of which were destined for Fort Shafter. As was customary, he arranged them by street to facilitate his route. Fort Shafter, although only seven miles away from the office was the most distant and would be his last stop  since none of the radiograms were marked urgent or rush.

He departed RCA at 8:40 a.m., knowing he was entering a danger zone, oblivious to the failed diplomatic posturing going on in Washington. Ten minutes into his route, at 8:50 Hawaii time (2:20 pm EST), Japanese Ambassador Normura in Washington finally presented the 14th part telegram—Tojo's version of a declaration of war--- to Secretary Hall, while Fuchikami was dodging flack as he sped toward Fort Shafter.

By then news of the attack was spreading throughout the Pacific outpost and into the halls of Washington. At 8:55 a.m. Hawaii time (2:25 p.m. EST) NBC radio news reporter John Daly interrupted programming on the mainland with the shocking news. Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor by air.[2] Instead of enjoying Danny Kaye’s Sunday Serenade while washing supper dishes, Americans pulled out maps and globes to locate Oahu and Pearl Harbor and listened to the live broadcast of a KGU-Honolulu reporter perched on the roof his radio station.[3]  As the day wore on it is estimated that 80 million listeners were glued to their radios, trying to mentally process the awfulness of the attack floating over the airwaves into their homes. Telephone lines jammed with frantic calls as the word spread, baseball games were interrupted and telegraph offices were flooded. For some, however, the news rolled off their backs like rain. They thought that   perhaps it was just another Orson Wells spoof, like the War of the World skit in 1938?  They wanted hard information--for how could a country with no money, no oil and a navy made of bath tubs cause much harm?[4]

     In Honolulu, with sirens wailing, Tadao Fuchikami, wove his way through the clamor, unmindful of the fact that with the dropping of the first bomb his heritage instantly labeled him as a possible spy or saboteur. George would later write that “…Fuchikami went on his way without thinking of the perils of his journey. He was no ‘Jap.’ He was an American.”[5]

    Fuchikami’s first stop was on River Street at about 9 a.m.  Five minutes later he handed a radiogram to a doctor on Vineyard Street, jotting his number on the receipt and retaining a copy in his pocket.   Anti-aircraft explosions, congested traffic and blockades forced him to find an alternate route as he raced on his Indian Scout to his next delivery. Fire had driven people out of the buildings at King and McCully Streets, two miles east of the RCA office.[6]  Towers of smoke, screaming, terrified people, and fire blocked his way. Walls had blown out at Kamehameha School; shrapnel sliced through a pedestrian across the street from the governor’s home,[7] and anti-aircraft guns blasted anything that looked like a Japanese fighter. After negotiating his way around two road blocks,  he was stopped and asked to show his credentials, first by Territorial Guardsmen and then by army soldiers who detained him for his own protection.[8] Finally at his last stop, Fort Shafter, George writes;

[Fuchikami’s] report to me stated it was difficult to find a way through to Fort Shafter since the main approach roads were blocked to all traffic. But on his own initiative because he is familiar with the neighborhood, he circumvented the blockades by some side streets with which he was familiar and was admitted into the Fort Shafter grounds to deliver the messages to the Signal Corp message center sometime between 9:30 and 10:15 a.m. (at the latest).

 When Fuchikami finally arrived at Fort Shafter, “the Signal Corp receiving clerk was not at his desk. He found him on the balcony of the headquarters building with many other army personnel who were looking down the hill at the Pearl Harbor and adjoining Hickam Army Airfield destruction ... Corporal Stevens initialed the receipts for the several separate radio telegrams with his usual sign “S” but failed to go inside to this office to put the receipts under the electric time stamp which was the regular procedure.

How long did Stevens keep these messages in his hand or in his pocket before sorting them out for distributions? Did he just lay them all, including the one addressed C. G, which may not have registered with him either, in the distribution box where they laid for hours on end until some of the excitement died down?"

 

[1] Adapted from poem by James R. Olsen, with permission.

[2] Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers 2000.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gillon,Pearl Harbor,82-5.

[5] Farago, The Broken Seal, 381.

[6] Stone 1989.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Thank you for reading a chapter from my soon to be published work of narrative nonfiction,  Pearl Harbor's Final Warning. What was your family doing that morning?

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