Army honors soldiers who fought, died during Hawaii attack

Veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack stand at attention for the National Anthem during the Wheeler Field remembrance ceremony, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2016

Remembrances of Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Oahu usually focus on the immense destruction wrought upon the Navy in Pearl Harbor.

But the Army suffered losses, too, and mounted a counterattack with the few fighter planes that were left airworthy.

Wheeler Army Airfield was a top target for the Japanese. The attack’s planners knew it was the Army’s primary fighter base, and those planes had to be stopped from joining the fight.

On Monday, the 25th Infantry Division and Army Garrison Hawaii held a remembrance ceremony and wreath presentation at Wheeler to honor those who fell, those who fought and those who went on to wage war in the Pacific.

“Today, 75 years later, the bomb scars are still etched in the tarmac’s concrete, just as the etching of the hot, molten shrapnel remains as it splayed out 360 degrees from those explosions,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Cavoli told an audience in Hangar 206. “Bullet holes — scars remain in these buildings, and you can see them even today.”

But Cavoli focused most of his speech on the men who lived through that sudden attack, some of whom were at the ceremony.

He took note of where they had been on that “day of infamy.”

“During the Dec. 7 attacks, 11 of the veterans sitting here among us were on ships attacked at Pearl Harbor,” he said. “One of you was on Ford Island. One was at Hickam Airfield. Two were in the Coastal Artillery. And four were right here at Wheeler and Schofield Barracks during those attacks. There was one over at Kaneohe Naval Air Station and one at Fort Armstrong.”

Just before 8 a.m. that day, roughly two dozen Japanese dive-bombers flew in from the north, bombing and strafing hangars.

More than 50 P-40s and other aircraft were destroyed on the tarmac.

Meanwhile, Japanese planes were also attacking Hickam Field, Bellows Field, Ford Island, Kaneohe Naval Air Station and Ewa.

A second wave of attacks at Wheeler ended around 9:45 a.m.

In the midst of the attacks, however, 12 pilots assigned to the 15th Pursuit Group at Wheeler managed to get their P-36 Hawks and P-40s into the air, commencing dogfights with a number of Japanese planes.

The attack left 33 dead and 75 wounded at Wheeler, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Seventy-six aircraft were destroyed, leaving only 83 in commission.

“For those of you who were here that day, this is truly hallowed ground,” Cavoli said.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson

Joe Reilly, 95, relates stories of his service during World War II to soldiers stationed at Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, after a remembrance ceremony, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. The 1941 Japanese attack left 33 dead and 75 wounded at Wheeler, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

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