"He was no coward" Tadao Fuchikami, Messenger Boy #9
The Footfalls of History
7 December 1941- Day of the Pearl Harbor Attack
Tadao Fuchikami, Messenger Boy #9, roared up to RCA-Communication on his Indian Scout motorbike to begin his regular deliveries. It was a beautiful day. He’d had a chance to sleep in an extra hour because he was the second messenger boy; he didn’t have to start his deliveries until 8:30. His ride to work had been quick, traffic was light as the island slept in—quiet except for the maneuvers. He thought that the army and navy were playing hard this morning—their practice drills more realistic than usual. The explosions were loud; the smell of cordite and smoke were discernable. The whine of aircraft accelerated to screams as they dove for their targets. Rolls of black clouds filled the sky to the east.
Tadao Fuchikami’s father had died in 1940, leaving his wife, Chie with a newborn and a house full of hungry mouths. They bought a house on Namauu Street, and Chie was now the official head of the household. Her three oldest children, in their early twenties, worked to support the family. Haruo, a partner, and salesman in a radio shop, lived in the household with his wife. Moshie taught sewing half time. And Tadao worked in a plumbing shop, but[i] an appendix operation now prevented him from going to his regular job, so he hired on as a temporary messenger with RCA-communication on King Street, managed by George Street.[ii]
When Fuchikami walked into the office the morning of 7 December 1941, he quickly learned the maneuvers were not live practice. By then, the news of the attack was spreading throughout the Pacific outposts and into the halls of Washington.
Shocked at the news, he would later say, “Hey! It can’t be Japan. Those Jap warlords are all cuckoo, like Hitler; but they’re not strong enough to beat the old USA.”[iii]
Asked if he wanted to make deliveries even as bombs dropped, he didn’t hesitate. It was his job. Fuchikami mounted his Indian Scout, knowing he was entering a danger zone. He headed northeast up Alakea and “then went to Beretania near River [street] and delivered his first radiogram around 9:00am.”[iv] Like Paul Revere, he spread the news. Soon his pockets and bag were full of money and hurried scribbled instructions for the transmission of “I’m OK” messages upon his return. He’d jotted his number, #9, on a receipt and kept the copy in his pocket.
Fuchikami then “went mauka (toward mountains) on River Street,” so named because it channeled the Nu’uanu stream through Chinatown, home of the Bronx, Rainbow, Midway, and Cottage, “Hotels.” Then he raced “…to Doctor Takahashi’s office on Vineyard Street…Ewa (toward Ewa district, i.e. around Pearl Harbor – also toward Fort Shafter) to Vineyard St. to Liliha St to King St. Ewa on King St. to Akepo Lane where I couldn’t find the persons the message was addressed to. Had a hard time making inquiries because of the funny nickname on message and the excitement.”[v] “I could see columns of smoke coming up from Pearl Harbor as I headed for Fort Shafter.”[vi] People stood pointing and commenting about how realistic the exercises were. Civilians fled to the hills once word spread that it was no drill.
Sirens wailing, his lantern jaw set and black hair brushed straight back, Fuchikami wove his way through smoke and din, unmindful of the fact that his Japanese American heritage instantly labeled him as a possible spy or saboteur. “…[he] went on his way without thinking of the perils of his journey. He was no ‘Jap.’ He was an American, he would say.”[vii] Fuchikami headed, “Ewa on Dillingham Blvd to Mokauea St. Manke to King St., Ewa on King to Kopke (St.).
Next Fuchikami delivered a message on Pinkham Street, “up Gulick to School St., Ewa to Kam 4th (Kamehameha IV Road), mauka on Kam 4th almost to Kalihiuke Road delivered message around 9:45a.m. down Kam 4th(down-toward water) to School St. to Middle St. where I was held up by traffic jam for about 15 or 20 minutes. All cars were being turned back on King St toward town (by police) except a few that were permitted to pass.” 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. According to one account, he was shot at while approaching one roadblock because his blue uniform with its RCA patch resembled the rising sun emblem of Japanese paratroopers.[viii] Fortunately, the guard was a poor shot. After negotiating his way around two roadblocks, he was stopped and asked to show his credentials, first by Territorial Guardsmen and then by army soldiers who detained him.
Fuchikami then “Went Ewa on King St to the Fort Shafter Message Center, delivered messages around 10:15 a.m.[ix] I asked the men if we were to keep on delivering messages to them. They said yes, keep bringing them.”[x] Finally at Fort Shafter, Street explains;
[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?
George wrote in the margins of his write up about the delivery, “anti-aircraft shells falling & exploding in the downtown area and between town and area of Fort Shafter” …. seven miles of delay, bedlam, and danger.” Fuchikami had no idea that he’d delivered Pearl Harbors Final Warning message, Radiogram 1549 to Fort Shafter. Unlike the Moris and so many other Japanese Americans, Fuchikami was not arrested and interned. George Street was smart enough to have him write down his account and confirm it, as the hunt for a scapegoat intensified.
In 1952 George Street and Tadao Fuchikami were guest speakers for the WNBT “Pearl Harbor Day TV special. Street’s character portrayed in the movie, Tora!,Tora!,Tora! elicited the following from George:
“That RCA telegraph office scene and that tall guy with the mustache (me, I suppose)-(actually I was home in bed, just about ready to get up)-was a real doozy. After the book was published, and I had read it, I was in direct communication with the author. He made the same mistake that a lot of authors make. He could have and should have contacted me before he finished his book, and it would not have had the phony [time] which is a gross canard apparently made up by the Signal Corp as a cover-up for just another failure.”
A Honolulu Star-Bulletin correspondent interviewed Fuchikami in 1996 when he was 79 years old. He stated that he didn’t know he was delivering an important message until the FBI questioned him several days later. And he didn’t learn of the exact wording until ten years after the attack.[xi]
According to a memorandum of George Streets, Fuchikami later became a sheet metal worker at Hickam Field. He was hired as a technical advisor for the 1969 film, “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Fuchikami retired as a civilian employee and passed away at the age of 89 years, on February 7, 2006. He was listed as the owner of a residence on Ahuula St., Honolulu, in the US Public Records, 1970-2009 database[xii]; the same address he wrote on his handwritten statement describing his heroic delivery of Radiogram 1549.
Remember Pearl Harbor!
[i] 1940 Census, Honolulu
[ii] Clarke, Pearl Harbor Ghosts, p. 240.
[iii] Clarke, Pearl Harbor Ghosts, p. 188.
[iv] Handwritten note by Fuchikami to George Street, dated Sunday, 7 December 1941.
[v] Handwritten note by Fuchikami to George Street, dated Sunday, 7 December 1941.
[vii] Farago, The Broken Seal, 381.
[viii] Clarke, Pearl Harbor Ghosts, p. 188.
[ix] The Congressional Record and authors have always indicated the delivery time of radiogram 1549 as 11:40. Eleven-forty is probably the time Corp Stevens turned the radiogram in for decoding due to the fact that he failed to time stamp the radiogram upon receipt. George Street annotated Fuchikami’s written statement clarifying that it was actually written 9 December and that Fuchikami had verbally told him he had delivered the message between 9 and 9:30 AM.”
[x] Handwritten note by Fuchikami to George Street, dated Sunday, 7 December 1941.
[xi] Tadao Fuchikami, http://archives.starbulleting.com/96/04/03/news/whatever.html accessed 3-31-2015.