I have a story to tell, as a reporter, that I think the women of Hawaii should hear.
December 7, 2012 11:49 AM   Subscribe

On December 7, 1941 Elizabeth McIntosh was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. A week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor she wrote a first-person account of the attack and its aftermath. Her editors thought the graphic content would be too upsetting, especially as it was directed at the women of Hawaii, and never published it. Now, 71 years later, her article appears for the first time.
posted by 2bucksplus (19 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
(if for some reason WaPo isn't working, you can also read the same content at The Seattle Times).
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:51 AM on December 7, 2012

"There was blood and the fear of death — and death itself — in the emergency room as doctors calmly continued to treat the victims of this new war. Interns were taping up windows to prevent them from crashing into the emergency area as bombs fell and the dead and wounded continued to arrive. I had never known that blood could be so bright red."

Wow, this is very well done.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:58 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I won't be reading this because of the graphic content (one of those fragile gals, I guess) but I'm happy to know the backstory about the story's burial... and resurrection. Thanks for the post.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:08 PM on December 7, 2012

In the morgue, the bodies were laid on slabs in the grotesque positions in which they had died. Fear contorted their faces. Their clothes were blue-black from incendiary bombs. One little girl in a red sweater, barefoot, still clutched a piece of jump-rope in her hand.
from Pearl Harbor, a nurse who wanted scraps of paper and pencil stubs to give to the boys in the hospital who had last messages they wanted sent home; a little girl named Theda who had a big doll named Nancy and who told me in a quiet voice that “Daddy was killed at Hickam.”

posted by dhens at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

There as an accompanying interview with Betty McIntosh by the Washington Post connected to the story last night which isn't in the post. It's a good watch.
posted by tittergrrl at 12:25 PM on December 7, 2012

Very powerful and personal account that did a great job of evoking the horror of those days and the ability of people to step up and take compassionate action while facing real terror.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Despite Tom Brokaw's cheapening of the phrase, Betty McIntosh seems to deserve the whole "greatest generation" thing. Or at very least the "cooler than you by a country mile" thing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Got chills.
posted by Glinn at 12:32 PM on December 7, 2012

I have a story to tell, as a reporter, that I think the women of Hawaii should hear.

Every potential maker of war should hear this.
posted by mkb at 12:44 PM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wow, if the writing in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser was still of that caliber, I'd resubscribe.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:48 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the morgue, the bodies were laid on slabs in the grotesque positions in which they had died. Fear contorted their faces. Their clothes were blue-black from incendiary bombs. One little girl in a red sweater, barefoot, still clutched a piece of jump-rope in her hand.

Although the military casualties topped 2,400, the number of civilian deaths would have been high enough alone. The USSWestVirginia.org lists the names of 48 civilian casualties, a dozen under the age of 18. That site also has a selection of first-hand accounts, but here's one from a 2010 news article by a woman who was four at the time:
I remember how close we came to being a part of the dead that day – when we drove past the corner of McCully and King streets, a building exploded and a fire started.

And then, two blocks later, another shell landed on the Japanese school. There was no McCully Bridge in those years, so we had to cross the Ala Wai on the Kalakaua Bridge.

As we got to the intersection of Lewers Street and Kuhio Avenue, our car briefly stalled and then got going again. Suddenly, there was a big boom and a huge hole in the ground right where our car had been stalled. I remember watching out the back window of the car.

Shrapnel from that shell ripped through the nearby apartment building on the makai-Diamond Head corner of that intersection and almost killed Mrs. Harry Good, who, with her husband, ran a liquor store on Kalakaua Avenue. Mrs. Good was in the apartment at the time. Fortunately, she had just bent over to tune in the radio, so the shrapnel missed her. If she had been standing, the shrapnel would have gone right through her. I vividly recall Daddy later showing me the holes in the walls of the apartment house where this happened.
This is what was meant by "a day that will live in infamy".
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

It was then that I realized how important women can be in a war-torn world.

There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do.

I discovered that when I visited the Red Cross centers, canteens, evacuee districts, the motor corps headquarters.

There is great organization in Honolulu, mapped out thoughtfully and competently by women who have had experience in World War I, who have looked ahead and foreseen the carnage of the past seven days and planned.
Wow. Good find, 2bucksplus; thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2012

Wow, if the writing in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser was still of that caliber, I'd resubscribe.

Find me newspaper writing that was at this caliber consistently and I'd subscribe. Then again, it was a special circumstance.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:22 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

wow. I guess I never realized there were any civilian casualties, let alone little girls with jump ropes.
posted by vespabelle at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

" I discovered that when I visited the Red Cross centers, canteens, evacuee districts, the motor corps headquarters."

Story time! A piece of WWII history picked up in Washington D.C. that relates to both the Red Cross and the OSS,

Being a young itinerant science person, my permanent address is the retirement community building where my mother lives and where I go back home from time to time. It is right in the middle of Washington D.C. on fantastically valuable land. Life there is sometimes hilarious, frequently very interesting, often quite tragic, and regularly bizarre in a lot of ways. For example, there is the man who still carries his White Russian passport and whose father was apparently a captain in the Imperial Merchant Marine who maintained the Imperial flag on his ship after the revolution and cruised around the Mediterranean using it to support himself and refugees, that is until the Bolsheviks apparently caught up with the ship in Croatia after the war - however no one can get very much of his story out of him because he is deaf as a post. There is also the one apartment outfitted with beautiful ancient furniture picked up in China before the war and artwork that could by rights easily be displayed in the Smithsonian. The feel of the place is difficult to describe, the lower lobby is painted to resemble a continental cafe with signs indicating some of the great capitals of Europe over each of the exits, except the doorway under the sign labeled "To London" goes to a drab office, while Paris must be somewhere beyond the exercise room and rat infested basement parking lot. It almost feels like it is built to continue to house you once you've forgotten about the outside world, and something about that hits at least me right at the bottom of something like the uncanny valley but for reality itself.

So one day, at the 'Algonquin Table' where the more sardonically minded meet in the restaurant by the lobby, a woman came to the table who usually ate in her room. She sat down and ate quietly while everyone talked mostly about current events, politics, and history, when somehow the name of Wild Bill Donovan, the very colorful head of the OSS, came up in the course of conversation. This look of recognition and relevance came across her face and she exclaimed, Oh yes, I knew Wild Bill Donovan! Everyone at the table was shocked but intrigued and extremely interested and so pushed her to tell the story.

As she described it, she was a Grey Lady who signed up at the beginnings of WWII. Largely forgotten now, Grey Ladies were women who volunteered with the Red Cross. They were generally young and unmarried women with the status and breeding to be able to afford to volunteer their time doing something productive, which in this case involved the kinds of tasks that needed doing in a hospital but did not require a medical education. This is things like writing letters for people, changing bed sheets and bed pans, doing paperwork, and keeping lonely patients company. Having signed up early and thus possessing valuable experience with the job, our dinner companion was given the task of supervising a cohort of Grey Ladies for the Washington D.C. area soon after Perl Harbor. One of her easier duties was to coordinate their schedules to cover the various shifts, but that was only until something suddenly happened. She remembered being very confused when her, more than a dozen, Grey Ladies all simultaneously had frustratingly extensive and sudden conflicts. For months, none of them would give strait answers to her questions until finally one of them pulled her aside to quietly tell her what was going on.

As it turns out Wild Bill Donovan had come to each of them individually with a private and top secret request. He had a problem. OSS operatives who had been dropped into France, been compromised in some way, and successfully escaped to Allied territory were coming back though D.C. and getting themselves into trouble in the raucous culture that dominated D.C. nightlife. You see, these men would have been worth much more than their weight in gold to the OSS. Not only were they already among the most daring, brightest, strongest, fastest and best our nation had to offer, but they had intimate knowledge of the resistance and situation on the ground, had invaluable experience evading the Nazis and collaborators, and had survived the ordeal to jump again or more importantly teach others how to. Also, at the time, the "wrong" part of town (which was really most of the town) was very seedy, with plenty of opportunity for 'easy trouble' for lonely men with combat pay. One can only imagine the kinds of situations they got themselves into, but apparently Wild Bill Donovan had had enough of it. The request, as this little old woman told it being described to her, was for these young, pretty, well groomed, and morally upstanding Grey Ladies to entertain the young men at the local country club and keep them company at regular dinners until their next assignment.

Now, there are several country clubs around DC that do date from that era, though I don't know that any of them had rooms upstairs if you know what I mean. As this story was being told, it was immediately obvious to everyone at the table what was going on. Wild Bill Donovan's understanding of human needs would have indeed extended further than hors d'oeuvres, the foxtrot, and pleasurable conversation. However, the teller did not seem to understand this, or perhaps not want to understand it, as there appeared to be nothing potentially scandalous in her mind about a patriotically minded dinner with a lonely serviceman, and fortunately the table had the good taste not to press the point.

Really though, as hunky, dedicated, aware, attractive, and intelligent as these men must have been, I can't imagine the patriotic duty of caring for them after what would have had to have been an inconceivably damaging experience. My understanding is that most of the OSS officers who jumped into France are still buried there somewhere, and those who made it back were extraordinarily unlikely to do so with their whole team. After the end of the war, Wild Bill Donovan was able to go to Nuremberg personally to see those who tortured his captured men find justice of the permanent and swinging variety, however this would have been no comfort to the men in the arms of these Grey Ladies with the war still raging.

I wonder if any of them are still around, it just seems sad that this kind of important and intimate history was so rarely passed along.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2012 [16 favorites]

Wow, if the writing in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser was still of that caliber, I'd resubscribe.

But the Star Advertiser didn't even run it. So there's that.

I found the part about not knowing what would happen next eerily reminiscent of the days after 9/11 when nobody knew what might be to come.
posted by jetsetsc at 3:22 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

For the record, the Star-Advertiser is the combined Star-Bulletin and Advertiser. The Star-Bulletin wouldn't run the story, but I've also seen other World War 2 era writing from that paper that was at least of this quality. Alas.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:08 PM on December 7, 2012

Don't know how accurate this is, but it claims that almost all of the civilians died as a result of friendly fire. There were several little girls who could have been holding jump ropes.
posted by Dojie at 5:16 PM on December 7, 2012

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