JIJAY, Duly Delivered
Eighty years ago, Tadeo Fuchikami, RCA’s messenger boy #9, sprang onto his motorbike and rode into hell. The date was 7 December 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The time was 8:40 AM. Bombs and spent anti-aircraft rounds had rained down on the harbor and Honolulu since 7:55 AM. Smoke choked the sky. The smell of cordite, burning bodies, oil, and metal mingled with the vanilla scent of the oleanders that lined the roads. Radio Corporation of America District Manager, George Street, working out of his house by phone, asked Fuchikami if he wanted to make deliveries given the danger zone he was asking him to enter. Fuchikami responded that, of course, he did. It was his job. The fact that he now had a target on his back because he was Japanese-American never crossed his mind. He would later tell my grandfather, George Street, “I was no Jap; I was an American.”
Fuchikami grabbed the radiograms sent by wireless from the slot marked Kalihi, the route he usually covered. None of the messages were marked URGENT or RUSH, so he sorted them from closest to furthest. Fort Shafter was the last stop on his route. He raced to Beretania Street near the river, went mauka (toward the mountains) on River Street to deliver his first message to Doctor Takahashi’s office on Vineyard. Takahashi jotted the time and his name on the RCA receipt. Fuchikami hopped back on his bike but terrified people blocked his way. They handed him “I’m Okay” messages to transmit to loved ones when he returned to RCA. Congested traffic, fires, and blockades forced him to find alternate routes. He headed ewa (west toward the water) on Dillingham Blvd and wove his way through back streets to reach his various stops. At one point, guards detained him for his safety. He’d been shot at because his RCA uniform logo was a red circle that resembled the rising sun symbol painted on Japanese aircraft. He could have been an invader!
At Middle Street, police redirected traffic, so he detoured. He went ewa on King Street and finally got to Fort Shafter’s message center sometime between 9:30 and 10:15 AM. He rushed in but the receiving clerk wasn’t at his desk. Fuchikami found him on the balcony with several other army personnel staring at a smoldering Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. When he spotted Corporal Stevens, he handed him Radiogram 1549. The only legible word other than the address line was “Marshall,” centered at the bottom. The rest was in code. Stevens scrawled an “S” on the RCA receipt but failed to time stamp it as per protocol. Neither Stevens nor Fuchikami knew that Radiogram 1549 was Washington’s last attempt to warn the Pacific Command that “something” was going to happen at 1:00 EST (7:30 AM Hawaii time). The other Pacific outposts had received it in time to prepare, but not Pearl Harbor.
When the dust settled, Washington went on a witch hunt. Someone was to blame for the surprise attack. Fuchikami’s head was the first on the chopping block because of his heritage. They claimed that he must have purposely delayed the message to help the Japanese. But good time records and the quick thinking of my grandfather exonerated him. Most importantly, Fuchikami did not feel victimized by the government that he loved when they tried to pin their misfortune on him. Instead, he went to work for them as a machinist, contributing to the war effort to protect the freedoms he cherished. He understood the fear prejudice generates and forgave and helped those who didn’t.
Like Paul Revere, Tadeo Fuchikami risked life and limb to do his job. He was an American through and through, epitomizing the will and determination that would later propel America to victory. He was a citizen, an American, and a man who loved his country first. He and the lesson he leaves should not be forgotten.