When Japanese fighters breached Hawaiian airspace on the morning of December 7, 1941 and launched a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, the entire country changed overnight. From California to Maine, the United States bled patriotism, and joined a war effort they were previously adamant about staying out of. While the nation prepared for war, Oahu was left with the destruction at the naval base, the remnants of attack, a black cloud that hung overhead, and sorrow for the men lost in the attack.
For a long time after the smoke had cleared, Oahu was a different place, its residents likely feeling no sense of security after the Japanese showed how easy it was to swoop in unnoticed. We talk often about how the United States as a whole reacted after the attack, but what was it like living on Oahu in the wake of the attack?
A Fragile State of Mind
With the debris still being cleared from the attack and residents were trying to comprehend what exactly had happened, all of Hawaii was on lock-down. A considerable portion of public and private life became the concern of the US military. Radio transmissions, like the one by Governor Joseph Poindexter, were shut off in fear that the Japanese were using the radio waves to orchestrate another attack.
Starting at 1800 on December 7th, the evening of the attack, Hawaii in its entirety was under a strict curfew. Bars and other public places were closed, and liquor was temporarily banned; even some schools remained closed for a period of time. The islands were in a heightened state of alert, though it’s unknown whether there were ever any additional acts of espionage carried out in Hawaii.
As for tourism, Hawaii wasn’t a place many people wanted to be. Families of servicemen and tourists trapped on the island were eventually given the chance to evacuate to the mainland.
Due to Hawaii’s proximity to the Pacific Theater of the war, Hawaii became a melting pot of military personnel and local residents. The economy saw a considerable boom as more and more people were stationed in the islands. Businesses prospered, especially those that were directly assisting with the war in the Pacific.
Like in the rest of United States, the war would drive Hawaii’s economy for the next several years.
Experience Pearl Harbor
One way to see how things changed after the attack is to make a visit to Pearl Harbor. The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is home to striking memorials and exhibits, including the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri, two sites that evoke very different emotions. While the Arizona Memorial will give you the same sense of dread, fear, and sorrow that those stationed in Hawaii felt at the time of the attack, the Missouri will lift your spirits, recalling the surrender ceremony ending the war that took place on her deck.
After the exhibits and memorials, make a visit to the Punchbowl National Cemetery and pay your respects to the servicemen who gave their lives during World War II and later conflicts.