June 19, 2001
When warplanes of the imperial Japanese military rained death and destruction on the unsuspecting Hawaiian islands the morning of December 7, 1941, my sister, Jeanice, was there with her four-year-old daughter, Sydney Jean. They had arrived on a Matson Steamship Liner from the U.S. only a few weeks earlier, in September, to join Captain Syd Wade, Jeanice's husband and Sydney Jean's father. He was a U.S. Army Field Artillery officer stationed at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu. It was considered a choice assignment. Brick barracks and well-manicured lawns, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, colorful and sweet-smelling flowers - all these provided an idyllic setting as a prelude to the Japanese sneak attack in which more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen were casualties. Our family will be forever thankful that Jeanice, Sydney Jean and Captain Wade came through the ordeal unscathed, although we at home here in Perry did not know that for several anxious hours.
Jeanice and her young daughter, Sydney Jean, were ordered to head for the pineapple fields when it became apparent that the attack was real, not an exercise. Along with other military dependents, they crouched among the lush, growing crop to stay out of sight of the Japanese aerial attackers. They succeeded, as did Captain Wade, who was with his Field Artillery battery at Schofield Barracks, wondering if his family was all right. Jeanice was expecting a child in just a few months, so she and Sydney Jean were soon returned to the U.S. mainland and the security of Perry, Oklahoma. Captain Wade remained in Hawaii and was one of the creators and instructors of the U.S. Army Jungle Center on Oahu, the training ground for troops destined to fight the enemy in the steamy swamps of the South Pacific. He was with the Army in the battle for Guadalcanal in 1942 when that foul bit of real estate was wrested from the Japs, but he contracted malaria there and was sent back to the U.S. for hospitalization. For him, the war was over. The Wades' son, Leigh Frederick, was born in August 1942 at Dr. C.H. Cooke's hospital on Sixth street in Perry. Jeanice and Captain Wade are now deceased. Sydney Jean and her husband, Vince Flynn, are teachers in American schools abroad and have just completed their third year in China. Sydney Jean served with the U.S. Peace Corps in Peru before taking the teaching position. Leigh is a retired Army Special Forces veteran who, by his own choice, served five tours of duty in Vietnam. He has published three novels about his experiences in `Nam. Leigh now lives with his teen-age son, Thomas Frederick Wade, in Tucson, Arizona.
Jeanice wrote to our mother, Ivy Beers, soon after her arrival in Hawaii in September before the attack, describing her joy at the beauty of the island and the warm reception she and Sydney Jean experienced. She wrote: "Tomorrow we are going to Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. Syd has a week off and we are invited to a party tomorrow night and we are having a beach party here that Saturday. Then we are to go to the supper club dance Sunday night with a couple at the Officers' Club on the post. All I have to do now is find someone to keep Sydney Jean, and that is going to be a job. She is carried away with the place and stayed in her bathing suit all morning and afternoon. Syd opened a coconut for her and she grated coconut for hours."
Such was the life for the families of U.S. servicemen in Hawaii until the Japanese bombs, torpedoes and bullets brought the horror of World War II to the sleepy Pacific islands on the "Day of Infamy." My own recollection of that time, when I was just beginning a career as a newspaperman, makes me eager to see the retelling of it in the new movie, "Pearl Harbor." The lives of everyone in this country were abruptly and dramatically changed by that attack, and the story deserves to be told and retold for all time to come. If you also were alive then, friend, both of us are what we are today largely because of that horrible event. Let's remember Pearl Harbor.