Watching the attack on Pearl Harbor

pearl_shaw-explodingUSS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (National Archives)

By George Morris

The day that helped define the 20th century started as a typical Sunday morning in 14-year-old Janice Hobson’s home in Honolulu, Hawaii. An Ink Spots song, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” was playing on the radio. The only oddity was that her dad, usually the first one up, was sleeping late. It was almost 8 a.m.

But it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Someone was setting the world on fire.

Janice heard a car horn blowing across the street. From a window, she saw a neighbor, Edward Bogan — who, like her dad, Sebaldus, served in the Navy — running with his young daughter in his arms.

“He jumped out of the car, grabbed the little girl and went up these steps to our house screaming, ‘The g-d Japs are bombing the hell out of Pearl Harbor!’” she said.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Baton Rouge resident Janice Hobson Wall Monro remembers it well.

peo monro lc 074.jpgJanice Hobson Monro (Photo by Liz Condo, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

The Japanese air attacks on the ships in Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Bellows Field and Kaneohe Naval Air Station killed 2,404, including 48 civilians, and spurred the United States’ entry into World War II, history’s deadliest conflict.

The news sent the Hobson home into a frenzy. Janice was sent to knock on the doors of servicemen, telling them Bogan would give them a ride to Pearl Harbor if they hurried.

“I went around to where some Navy guys were and I told them what was happening, and they thought it was just a kid pulling a joke on Sunday morning,” Monro said. “I told them if they didn’t believe me, by then it was on the radio.”

Her dad was one of those who left with Bogan. With telephone use banned except for military emergencies, they wouldn’t hear from him for a week.

One departing serviceman left his wife and child  with the Hobsons before heading to base. Janice ran over to a group of people standing where they could see Pearl Harbor, and watched the attacking dive bombers and torpedo planes.

Her mother, expecting a blackout and fearing an invasion, decided to move everyone to a friend’s larger house. They were about to leave when they heard Japanese aircraft.

“We saw the second wave coming,” Monro said. “They were so close, I could see the men’s heads and faces. They were so low. … That’s why I got to see them. I was shocked at how low they were.

“They dropped bombs in town, in Honolulu, and on the men trying to get back to the bases. They were shooting at them. So, we didn’t know if Daddy and Mr. Bogan and them got back or not. We had no idea. The mothers, of course, were just very upset.”

That night, Janice slept in the attic of the two-story house, and it had a window.

During the night, she saw tracer bullets shooting upward and bringing down airplanes. They turned out to be American aircraft arriving from California. In the surrounding hillsides, she saw house lights turn on and off in patterns she thought could be signals.

The next morning the Hobson family returned home, where they largely stayed for weeks.

Schools did not reopen for three months, which left the children with a lot of time on their hands. One neighborhood boy whom Janice didn’t know showed her a piece of shrapnel he said came from a bomb that fell at Hickam Field.

“I said, ‘Can I have it?’ ” she said. “We knew some day it would be important. I begged him: ‘Please give it to me. You can go get another one.’ So he did.”

peo monro lc 011.jpgJanice Monro saved this piece of shrapnel from the Pearl Harbor attack. (Photo by Liz Condo, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Military officials, fearing further attacks, encouraged military families to move to the mainland in early 1942, and the Hobsons boarded a luxury liner that had been converted into a troop ship. Six people occupied rooms designed for two. A trip that would take five days in peacetime took eight because the convoy zig-zagged to make it difficult for Japanese submarines to locate and attack it.

During the voyage, the Japanese radio propagandist, Tokyo Rose, claimed that its submarines had sunk her ship.

“When we crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge, everyone yelled,” Monro said. “We felt we were safe.”

They remained stateside for about a year. Because there was a shortage of teachers in Hawaii, Genevieve Hobson was able to return with her daughters.

They made the trip on a troop ship. With so few other females aboard, the Hobson girls were extremely popular. Genevieve organized shows in which her girls would dance the hula.

“When we pulled into Pearl Harbor and I got off the ship, they all were hanging out and yelling at me,” she said. “I was 15 then. Daddy said, ‘I’m gonna have to get me a gun.’ I thought he meant it.”

They were in Hawaii when Japan’s surrender ended the war, touching off an emotional celebration. Janice attended a dance sponsored by the Red Cross and met her first husband, Clayton Wall, who was a top gunner on a B-29 bomber.

“Every one of those guys asked me to marry him,” she said. “I had more proposals that day.”

After Wall died in 1995, she reconnected with a high school sweetheart, James Monro. They married in 1996, and he died in 2005.

Monro moved to Baton Rouge in 2009 and has a box filled with memorabilia, including newspaper clippings about the attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s surrender. And, of course, the piece of shrapnel.

It reminds her of an incident that occurred before the war. She had gone with her mother and sister to visit family in Florida. On the return trip, they saw a nearby cargo ship.

“It was our scrap iron we were selling to Japan. This is some of it,” she said, pointing to the shrapnel. “They turned it into bombs and gave it back to us.”

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