Remembering Pearl Harbor

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Betty Honey remembers listening to the radio with her mother on the night Pearl Harbor was bombed. —MV Museum

For those of us who were not around at the time, the attack on Pearl Harbor conjures up iconic images of Japanese warplanes descending from the heavens, confused sailors scrambling to their stations, battleships sinking at their berths. But for those whose everyday lives were interrupted by “a date which will live in infamy,” there were more personal recollections as well.

In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, 75 years ago on Dec.7, we’d like to share some of these recollections from three Islanders: Betty Honey, Stuart Bangs, and John Hughes. They were taken from Linsey Lee’s book, “More Vineyard Voices,” published by the Oral History Center at the MV Museum. They speak of the life-changing moment when the news first broke … of the sudden surge of patriotism … and a moving Christmas story at sea that will never be forgotten.  

Betty Honey

“We would listen to the radio. The one that’s right there. “Amos and Andy.” Which would never be allowed these days. And various musical things like the Philharmonic on Sunday. My mother would always sit in that rocking chair there and crochet and listen to the Philharmonic. That’s what she was doing when they told us about Pearl Harbor. She was in that chair, listening to this program, with the dishtowel full of silver, wiping it and putting it away in the drawers from the Sunday dinner. Putting it away in the sideboard, which still holds silver, the same silver. When they had the big announcement about Pearl Harbor, that’s what I was doing. It was a total shock to everybody. We didn’t know Japan even felt like that about us. They were sending ambassadors to Washington at the time.

We didn’t expect anything to happen here, really. But immediately you knew that something would change. War was declared. There would be people who would have to go. And that changed everything. And then we got really into it, you know? They had all the rationing and blackouts and air raid wardens — I was one.”

Stuart Bangs

“Immediately after Pearl Harbor, I got the fever, and along with some other fellows, went up to Boston to enlist. I had already tried to enlist in the Navy, and they found out I was colorblind. The only thing left open was the Army, so that’s what I went to do. I think they would have taken a dead man if he had two eyes he could see out of. They were in a hurry, and they wanted people.”

John Hughes

“When the war broke out, I went into the Navy, and I ended up as a naval officer commanding a minesweeper in the North Atlantic. When the war was over in the Atlantic, they sent me over to the Pacific, to pick up another minesweeper and to take the first available transportation from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor. And the first available transportation happened to be an aircraft carrier. The population of the aircraft carrier and the population of Martha’s Vineyard were the same, 5,000 people.

It was the week of Christmas, and Christmas Eve we were still a day out of Pearl Harbor. At night, they got everybody that wasn’t on duty down on the hangar deck for a Christmas sing-song, so there were better than a thousand of us down there singing. At the end of the song, the elevator which brings the airplanes up and down came down into the hangar deck with a Christmas tree and Santa Claus, and there was a wrapped gift for every one of us. It was probably a razor or something like that, or soap or something. But I’ll never forget it. That was a Christmas I’ll never forget.”