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Letter from Hawaii

Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum (19)
Damage at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum(20)

Kauai Alumna Shares Experience
Margaret Adriance Withington '20, with husband Ted and young son Arthur, was a missionary on Kauai, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. She shared her experiences in the Alumnae Quarterly of February 1943.(21)

The Opening Salvo
The Withingtons were first informed of the bombing by children attending their Sunday school. They tried to carry on as usual but "the ominous reality" changed everything. She and Arthur worked at the Red Cross; Ted assisted the head of Office of Civilian Defense. They experienced the first of 344 successive blackouts that night. Ted received firsthand experience in blackout driving when he took the head of the OCD for a tour of communications centers on the island. Fortunately, no bombs landed on Kauai that day, but an enemy plane did land. A woman, "an average-sized, sweet person," killed the pilot with a rock according to Mrs. Withington, who referred to "the Niihau story which happened so near us."

New Duties
Life changed overnight in the "very mixed racial community." The Hawaiian with "the flower lei on his hat" now guarded bridges. An elderly "Portuguese woman taught local bakers how to make potato yeast" when regular yeast was in short supply. Filipinos began filing bolos (long knives) which they carried on volunteer drills. Even the Boy Scouts, many of whom were of Japanese descent, were recruited to act as messengers with any and all available bicycles.

Ominous Reality
The "ominous reality" of war hit home when Kauai was shelled from a submarine. While son Arthur "calmly dressed himself" and put his dog, Skippy, on her leash, Margaret and Ted "groped with [a] flashlight" for their clothing. They learned the importantance of preparedness and the need to have flashlights, clothing and other necessities readily available on a chair next to their beds. Another reality was the internment of a fellow minister and good friend who was of Japanese ancestry. As a result of their friend's "knowledge of Island racial groups" Ted became involved in organizing the internment camp, in planning housing, recreation, and in attempting to comfort the families of the interred men. Although misunderstood by many locally, Ted persevered. Later that work was taken over by the military and Margaret informed her readers that "the Government is still working out plans."

Strict Martial Law
The Withington family had to learn how to live under "strict martial law." Food was a problem, eggs were $.95 per dozen if there were any and getting supplies was difficult. Arthur Withington had 5 hens, which his mother stated "were a help." They also had fresh fruit trees such as avocado, papaia [sic], lime and banana. Arthur and his schoolmates drilled regularly for gas attacks and any child who came to school without his registration card and gas mask had to go home and retrieve them. Additionally, each member of the family had evacuation kits which contained clothing, blankets and enough food "for four days in the hills."

Other requirements for life under martial law included thumb printed registration cards, ration cards for butter, rice, poultry feed and gasoline. Additionally they had to carry a written statement affirming that they knew how to disable their car, and new paper money with "Hawaii" printed on it.

In her final paragraph, Margaret wrote about her other two sons, Ted, Jr. and Bill. Both young men were studying at Harvard College and Ted, Jr. was soon to report to Army Air Corps training camp. Her concern for them was revealed clearly through her words, "Our hearts are very much on the mainland with them..." feelings shared by many during that perilous time.

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