Tuesday, December 03, 2013

TOP STORY >> Pearl Harbor remembered

Leader staff writer

It has been 72 years since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

For Jacksonville resident James Atkinson, he can remember that morning like it happened yesterday.

Atkinson, 87, was a 16-year-old living with his family in the Manoa Valley of Honolulu, east of Pearl Harbor. Although he could not see Pearl Harbor from where they lived, Atkinson could tell something bad was happening.

“My dad and I were going to church. As we were waiting for the bus, I saw the planes go by. We heard this big boom. That was the (USS) Arizona blowing up,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson remembered his Latin teacher was in front of the church, and he asked the teacher what he was doing there. Atkinson heard a big gong going off and was told Pearl Harbor was being attacked.

“I saw puffs of smoke. Pearl Harbor was a mile and a half away. My knees were shaking,” Atkinson said.

“We saw the planes go by, torpedo bombers. They dropped bombs on a Japanese store. I think they were misinformed,” he said.

He remembered the Japanese also bombed a store where the Navy could get hardware to repair ships.

“The Japanese Zeros were excellent planes. They dropped 500-pound bombs, trying to get the governor’s home,” Atkinson recalled.

He said Hawaii went under martial law. After church, he and his dad went to lunch.

“Dad and I went over to city hall. The Army-Navy was not prepared for what happened,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said people in Hawaii thought the Japanese would attack from the sea.

He said city hall had big bunkers. Atkinson saw a bakery truck delivering blood supplies and bandages. The local taxi service was picking up sailors from the Army-Navy YMCA and took them to Pearl Harbor.

Atkinson had a brief military career. During the Second World War, he served in the Army in a field artillery battalion from 1944 to 1945. He re-enlisted into service from 1949 to 1951 in the Air Force as an aircraft maintenance crew chief.

Atkinson was born in Hawaii and lived most of his life there. He worked as a cab driver and security guard.

In 1999, when he was 72, he wanted a change. He saw an ad for Arkansas in a Hawaiian newspaper. It was either here or Florida.

Atkinson liked what he saw when he visited the state and chose Jacksonville. He knew several people in the area and members of the Jacksonville VFW post.

Atkinson and his family plan to move back to Hawaii next year.