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The attack on Pearl Harbor as seen through a young girl’s eyes

December 7, 2018

The attack on Pearl Harbor as seen through a young girl’s eyes

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Not long after Japanese bombers devastated U.S. military forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Dorothea Warren, like many Americans, heard news of the attack on the radio.

However, Warren, 88, of Austinburg, was living in Hawaii at the time, and the attack that launched America into World War II would impact her then, and now, 77 years later.

Warren, who winters in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, E. Terry Warren, recalled that fateful day in a recent phone conversation.

“My dad was an attorney, but also working for the government,” she said. “We were at breakfast Sunday morning, and the radio was on, which was unusual. So they must have known something was coming.

“About 8 o’clock the news came on about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”

The family lived near the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, and ran to a nearby height called Rocky Hill.

From there they could see smoke billowing from Pearl Harbor where burning ships and aircraft bore mute testimony to the attack.

The bombs and torpedoes dropped by aircraft from Japanese carriers sunk or damaged 21 U.S. ships, killing some 2,300 military personnel. More than 50 civilians were also killed during the attack.

Warren said her father, George Crozier, commented, “This is it. The Japanese are here. Pack the car.”

“Everybody kind-of ran home and decided they’d better get ready to head for hills, or get in a boat and head to San Francisco,” she said. “We did have a sailboat, and there was talk about sailing off, but that wasn’t an option.”

Life immediately changed for the 11-year-old and her family.

That first night after the attack Warren said they slept on the main floor of their two-story house.

“Mother packed the car with groceries in case we had to go to the hills,” Warren said.

“It was completely unsettling,” she added. “Obviously our parents were agitated. I think my father knew lot more than I ever knew about.”

Soon, houses and buildings in Hawaii had their windows blacked out to avoid becoming targets in possible night attacks.

Warren’s mother volunteered for Civil Defense and made the rounds of their neighborhood to assure that the black-out was followed.

Warren said her mother, Alice, also was a Red Cross volunteer at local hospitals, aiding those who had been hurt in the attack.

“She would help write Christmas letters for the injured, and help out,” Warren recalled. “I remember one case when my mother was asked to buy some pajamas for somebody’s sweetheart.”

Warren’s life also changed with the uncertainty of another Japanese attack on the island.

School students were taken to Red Cross shelters to help fold surgical dressings.

Additionally, “we were given gas masks and learned how to do a gas mask test every day before school,” she said. “There was a lot of preparation, and that came into use.”

That preparation is a largely untold story about the attack, according to Warren.

She referred to a 1992 publication by Hawaiian physician Dr. Rodney West, “Honolulu Prepares for Japan’s Attack – Oahu Civilian Disaster Preparedness Programs, May 1, 1940-December 7, 1941,” which detailed efforts to plan for a possible attack long before the Japanese struck.

This included work by the American Red Cross, Honolulu Medical Society and Chamber of Commerce, and Office of Civilian Defense to prepare clinic locations, volunteer staffing, emergency transportation and other medical services in the eventuality of an attack.

“I don’t think very many people know that the islands were aware something was coming . . . that they tried to get ready and saved a lot of people,” Warren said.

By March, families with ties to the government were evacuated. “They felt the Japanese were coming back, and they wanted anybody with the government not to be there,” Warren said.

“In the middle of night, we got on one of those huge seaplanes, and flew to San Francisco,” she added. “Not my father. He stayed. My mother, brother and I were away for about a year.”

They were disturbing times. “We didn’t know what was going on. My 5-year-old brother and I just knew that day by day, things were of concern,” Warren said. “And then leaving, and being away from father, was very hard on my mother.”

After the war, Warren attended Cornell University where she met and married her husband, an Ohio native, and moved to Northeast Ohio.

The memories of that day 77 years ago remain vivid.

Last year on Pearl Harbor Day she and her husband attended an annual memorial service at the University of Arizona – namesake of the battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor, resulting in more than half the deaths from the attack.

Nowadays, Warren remembers the attack as a time of stress on her family. “Everything was changed,” she said. “It’s just hard to look back on that.”

But she believes it’s important to remember, and said, “The story should be told, over and over again.”

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