December 7, 1941: Letters from Hilltop House: “Oʻahu has been attacked!”

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Dockside Sailing Press
Cosette Morrison Harms
Softcover, 106 pp.

On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, Anne Taft Powlison was preparing to serve breakfast to her two daughters and four guests at their hilltop home in Lanikai, Hawai‘i. The house overlooked Kaneohe Naval Air Station. Their attention was caught by flames and smoke billowing from the air base. They soon learned that it had been attacked by Japanese planes. Moments later, as they absorbed the shock of that news, Anne looked out the window and saw the second wave of Japanese planes flying by at eye level, unleashing more bombs on the air base. A plane could be seen crashing into the bay. The hours following the attack were filled with panic, rumors of invasion, blackouts, and emergency services fighting fires and tending to the dead and wounded. Against this backdrop of fear and terror, one of Anne’s first concerns was for her son Peter, a student at faraway University of Washington. While all these events were fresh in her mind, she immediately wrote him a detailed letter, describing the horror of the attacks and reassuring him that she and the rest of the family were okay. Anne continued to write to Peter almost daily through the rest of December. In her letters she hopes that eventually the mail will reach him and entreats him to write soon and let them know that he is okay. These contemporary letters that begin on “the day that will live in infamy” are poignant and moving. In a few pages Anne conveys her fears, her mother’s love, and a resolution to bear up under “the trying days ahead of us.” For those of us who weren’t yet alive in 1941 or for those who lived on the mainland thousands of miles away, Anne’s letters bring alive emotions and fears of those who experienced the attack as no film or book could do. Peter kept the letters and eventually they were brought back to Hawai‘i and put into storage. Long forgotten, they were recently discovered by Cosette Morrison Harms who brought this book into being.