Iconic pictures of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor this week marked the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and reminded me of my first-hand experience of that day. I remember being awestruck on a cool Hawaii morning, watching Japanese aircraft fly through Koli Koli Pass on Oahu, strafing Quadrangle D at Schofield Barracks on their way to Pearl Harbor.
Nevertheless, I should explain that the historic attack occurred years before I was born. My “first-hand memory” was watching the filming of Tora! Tora! Tora! about 30 years after the historical event.
As Army journalists in the Public Information Office, our team had assisted the movie crew planning the scene. We had watched a few days earlier as the special-effects team from Hollywood drilled hundreds of tiny holes in the cement block walls of the unoccupied Army barracks quad. The crew placed .22 caliber blank cartridges interconnected with electrical wiring into each hole. The wiring, invisible to the ultimate movie audience, fired off the cartridges in a sequence that mimicked machine gun firing. The machine gun sound effects that accompanied them were added later in the film room. One day after completing the scene, the movie crew removed the cartridges, patched the holes and repainted the walls to match the original color.
That experience was only one of many that our PIO team shared as part of the Army’s representation to the civilian community. Occasionally we helped the TV crew of Hawaii Five-0 by arranging to make an Army roadway available as part of a chase scene. A few of us even wore Army uniforms for walk-on parts, though I never personally experienced that 15 minutes of fame.
With a war raging in Vietnam, my teammates and I were the luckiest draftees in the Army. The 11th Infantry Brigade was training a short walk from our building. We covered the brigade as a news beat, writing stories and taking photos for PR releases or the Army’s weekly newspaper. As the brigade prepared to deploy to Vietnam, we said our goodbyes and good luck wishes to many young men, some of whom would never return.
Every year on December 7, I think of those days in Hawaii. I learned a lot about journalism and many other subjects. Overall it was a good experience. And many years later, it gave me the opening scenario for my novel, “The Victory That Wasn’t”.