Bob May

Bob May (Lem Robson / S&S)

Bob May was a 19-year-old private from Van Buren, Ohio, assigned to the 5th Bomb Group at Hickam Field on Dec. 7, 1941.

At the time of the attack, he was going to radio school and was living in a huge new barracks called Hale Makai, the "inn by the sea." It housed about 3,200 men.

He spent the first few minutes of the attack hiding. First he hid behind a wooden enlisted club Hickam airmen called the "Snake Ranch" across the parade field from Hale Makai, and later in a Honolulu Electric Co. manhole.

He was outside Hale Makai when a Japanese bomb went through the roof and exploded in the building's mess hall, killing 35 men. A friend of his, a baker, had sought refuge inside the mess hall's huge walk-in cooler when the attack began and was killed by the contusion from the explosion.

May transferred to the 11th Bomb Group in 1942 and served with the unit in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific throughout the war. He was discharged in 1945 and went home to Ohio. He now lives in Florida and is secretary-treasurer of the 11th Bombardment Group Association.

May was one of several people instrumental in erecting an 11th Bomb Group memorial that will be dedicated at Hickam Dec. 7. This is his story.

— Jim Lea

I woke up at a little after 7 a.m. My buddy came in off guard duty and I was still in bed.

He said, "May, let's go to chow."

I said I didn't want to, but he kept after me and I finally said, "Roy, go back and read your damned comic books. I want to sleep in."

There was a lot of noise outside and we went to the window to see what it was. I saw this plane dart past, but he was so fast I couldn't tell who it was, but I thought they were coming awful close to the building.

Somebody came running in shouting, "Get out of the barracks! The Japanese are attacking."

I looked out the window again and saw this plane coming down between two wings. I saw it release something, and I turned around to run. I got about 10 feet from the window when (a bomb) went off.

I was on the second floor. If I'd been on the first floor I probably wouldn't be here today.

I got a pair of pants — no shoes, no socks, no belt — and ran out the door with my buddy Roy and across the parade ground to the Snake Ranch. There were planes diving all over the place and I don't know how in the hell we kept from being hit.

Roy had a .45, but I was just standing there trying to hold up my britches. He told me to keep watch for a plane coming by.

I looked out and said, "Here comes one! About 50 feet off the ground!"

He said, "Boy oh boy!" and fired his .45. Boom! A puff of smoke came out (of the plane). I yelled, "My God, you hit him, Roy!"

The (plane) went over the water tower and down he went.

I guess probably 7,000 guys fired at that plane and all of them think today they shot it down.

We decided that we weren't in a very safe place, so we ran back toward the parade ground. Three guys were setting up a water-cooled .30-cal. machine gun. All of a sudden a bomb hit and there was nothing but a big hole in the ground.

We didn't even stop, just kept running.

Everybody who worked on the (flight) line had to go there (the flight line). Since I was in radio school, I didn't have anyplace to go.

I was getting dressed when somebody came in and said we had to get out of the barracks.

I went downstairs and there were about six of us together and this captain said he'd lead us out of the building. Just as we got out the door, a plane started strafing.

"Back! Back! Back!" the captain yelled and we ran back inside. I had been the last one out, so I was the first one back in.

A bomb went off and we slid across the floor. The only one hurt was the captain who got a little piece of shrapnel in his butt.

He started yelling, "I got the Purple Heart! I got the Purple Heart!"

We got out safely, but it took me a long time after that to prove to people that I went where I said I went.

I went across the street to where there was a great big (manhole) over a Honolulu Electric (underground) facility.

I tried to open the lid but it was really heavy. I looked around for somebody to help, but there was nobody there.

Finally I got the damned thing off and looked around. Still nobody around. I went down inside and within a few minutes people started coming in on top of me.

There wasn't anybody around when I was trying to open the lid, but all of a sudden I was in the middle of 12 guys.

(May has spent months trying to verify names of 11th Bomb Group people missing or killed in the attack. The names will be inscribed on the memorial dedicated this year.

(He has been unable to verify two names. Witnesses say they were killed in the attack, but the names appear in no records reviewed so far.

(One was a fireman named Fredrich Malarsie who was seen slumped dead over the wheel of his fire truck during the day. Circumstances surrounding the death of the second man — two witnesses have attested they saw him dead in bed — are unusual.)

A man by the name of Max Butterfield told me he had a friend named Charlie Judd with the 17th Air Base Group. They were like brothers, he said.

He said he went up to Charlie's (that morning) and said, "Let's go to chow."

Charlie said, "No, I'm gonna finish this book."

"What's it about?" Butterfield asked.

"It tells all about the piss-poor Japanese air force."

Butterfield said he was going out to see what all the noise was about. When he saw the planes strafing, he ran back inside shouting, "Come out and see this damned poor Japanese air force, Charlie! They're beating the hell out of us!"

Charlie didn't move. There was a hole in the middle of his forehead. One of the strafing rounds got him.

(May believes information on Malarsie and Judd may be found in records kept in 11 cartons the military is holding in Washington and refuses to allow examination of. He wants to examine them under a Freedom of Information Act request, but says that takes money that isn't available.)

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