Archive for Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pearl Harbor surprise attack memories still fresh

December 13, 2007

On a Sunday morning 66 years ago, Millie Anderson stood in her back yard and watched World War II unfold in front of her.

The 9-year-old girl and her family saw low-flying planes racing across the sky and columns of black smoke rising in the distance. They heard the explosions of bombs as they were dropped on Navy battleships 3 miles away at Pearl Harbor.

"I was scared. The sky -- it was so red and orange," Anderson, of Overbrook, said during an interview as she remembered Dec. 7, 1941.

The Japanese surprise attack severely crippled the U.S. Navy. It also forced the United States into the war on two fronts: against Japan in the Pacific and against Germany in Europe.

Anderson remembers the Pearl Harbor attack as if it happened yesterday. She was born and raised on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, which also was the site of Pearl Harbor. Her father, Paul Teixeira, was a carpenter. Anderson was the youngest in the family. She had two sisters and a brother.

Anderson's family attended an early-morning Catholic Mass that Sunday. Afterward, she rode her bicycle to a bakery to get doughnuts for breakfast. At about 8 a.m., the family was sitting at the table eating when it heard a series of distant explosions. She remembers her mother saying that a nearby Army base must be having gunfire practice.

But when Anderson's mother got up to look out a window, she saw smoke and fire in the direction of Pearl Harbor.

"Oh! It's real!" Anderson said her mother exclaimed.

Her family then went out to the back yard to get a better look, she said. Planes could be seen flying low in the sky, and some of them were flying close to her neighborhood, she said.

"Look! They are Japanese!" Anderson heard her mother say. "It's got the red, round ring on it. That's Japanese!"

Anderson knows that historical accounts of the raid note that Japanese bombers targeted battleships, as well as island air bases to keep American planes grounded. But some planes did get airborne. Anderson said she clearly remembers seeing American planes chasing some of the Japanese planes.

"They were so brave," she said of the American pilots.

While the family watched the air battle, a motorcycle police officer rode up and stopped.

"You ignorant people! Get yourselves in the house! Take cover!" Anderson said the exasperated cop yelled at them.

That night Anderson got little sleep because she was so frightened by the bombing, she said.

"I was a nervous wreck," she said. "I just shook all night long."

Although her neighborhood wasn't specifically targeted, a bomb did land in her school yard only a block away, Anderson said. It did not explode and had to be defused by the military.

There were many Japanese living in her neighborhood, and Anderson remembers the military going door-to-door after the attack and taking them away.

"I felt sorry for them, but everybody was mad," she said.

Anderson's father was so mad he tried to join the military but was turned down because of his age. He died in 1945 at age 54.

Anderson grew up, met and then married the late Francis Anderson, a Marine from Stull. They had two sons and a daughter. Today, Anderson is a full-time caretaker for an elderly couple in Baldwin City.

Anderson returned to Hawaii three years ago and visited Pearl Harbor. She said it was especially emotional to see the USS Arizona Memorial, which marks the site where the battleship went down with most of its 1,177-man crew.

Every year on Dec. 7, Anderson remembers and reflects on what she saw as a little girl standing in her back yard.

"I pray for the boys," she said. "It was so sad."

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