The Madlyn and Paul Hilliard Research Library at The National WWII Museum features a diverse collection of materials on Pearl Harbor, including published books and memoirs as well as unpublished personal narratives and interviews representing a multitude of experiences and points of view. The Museum’s mission is to focus attention on the stories of individual participants, and the Library supports that mission by providing resources to search and access these stories. To commemorate the the attack on Pearl Harbor, here are a few related highlights from the Library.
To understand the main events and leadership decisions surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor, we provide several essential histories, such as the classic At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange. But, our main emphasis is on offering works that detail the experiences of soldiers and citizens themselves, notably exemplified by Walter Lord’s Day of Infamy which uses interviews to show the big picture through human ordeal. Many titles drill down further on more specific encounters, like the story of the USS Enterprise’s air group pilots in Steady Nerves and Stout Hearts by Robert Cressman, while others illuminate lesser-known aspects of the attack like the O’ahu Civilian Disaster Preparedness Program described in Honolulu Prepares for Japan’s Attack by Rodney West.
And of course, the Museum has numerous memoirs and story collections written from various angles, such as the rescue and salvage operations of a Navy diver in Descent Into Darkness by Edward Raymer, and the memories of local children at Punahou School in The Day Our World Changed edited by John Bowles.
More unique to the Library’s collection are the unpublished personal narrative files which are donated by the public and come in various forms like briefly written anecdotes, self-printed books, school papers, newsletters, clippings, photos, and recorded interviews. For example, we have papers and sound files donated by Elaine Tagliaferri who recorded interviews with her father (a sailor stationed at Pearl Harbor) and other local members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
A particularly useful trove of remembrances can be found in Pearl Harbor Survivors and Their Stories, a locally-printed anthology compiled by members of the Tulsa Last Man’s Club, donated by Doug Eaton. It contains the personal accounts of 58 veterans and civilians from northeast Oklahoma, including those of J. Arlon Jenkins and Arles Cole. Jenkins enlisted in 1940 because he was unemployed and single, and a Tulsa recruiting office for the Marines “promised travel, education, and romance…[but] there was no romance where they sent me.”
In one of several close calls, Jenkins almost ended up in the Philippines and likely avoided the Bataan Death March. He was sent to Pearl Harbor, and months later when the surprise attack began he describes being caught off guard and unprepared to respond: “I remember we were all out in our underwear with 1903 bolt action rifles, small machine guns, and WWI steel helmets firing at planes.”
Cole also chose to enlist in 1940, but for different reasons as his father and brother had served in the Army. He picked the Navy and was assigned to the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor. During the initial attack, his ship was torpedoed and took on water which trapped him below deck, but he escaped through a hole left by a Japanese aerial bomb. He stayed aboard helping the wounded and fighting fires. He recalled,
“As I surveyed the damage, I realized the explosion of the Arizona had burned our ship’s American flag…I climbed out over the water on the flagstaff and tied the new flag to the staff…What an uplifting sight, through all of this destruction, there flew our American flag.”
These singular stories told from myriad perspectives are crucial to understanding the full experience of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Whether found in the most authoritative text, the most original memoir, or the most unique personal narrative file, The National WWII Museum and Hilliard Research Library will continue our mission to collect these stories and make them accessible to researchers, students, and the general public.
Wesley Lucas is the Librarian for the Madlyn and Paul Hilliard Research Library at The National WWII Museum.