As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, here are some stories that highlight the critical role that the Hawaii Red Cross played during the day that will live in infamy. Remarkably, we are the only Red Cross chapter in the entire nation that has ever operated in a combat zone.
The essence of the Red Cross is the spirit of humanitarianism and compassion, and what the war did was ignite that spirit in everyone. Thousands Red Cross volunteers from different socio-economic classes and races came together to serve the common good. It was the young and old, the rich and poor, and that’s what the American Red Cross is all about – neighbor helping neighbor, down street, across nation, and around world.
After the December 7, 1941 attack on Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiʻi Red Cross Motor Corps immediately began evacuating people from Pearl Harbor, transporting medical supplies and carrying the wounded to hospitals. The Motor Corps also transported donors to blood banks, took library books to service hospitals and traced individuals whose families contacted Red Cross for help in finding loved ones.
Former State Attorney General Mike Lilly’s mother, Ginger Lilly, learned how to drive heavy army trucks, fix engines, and change tires as part of the Red Cross Motor Corps. They practiced military drills, black out driving, and took part in chemical warfare demonstrations. Without any thought of possible injury to themselves, they did what they had to do.
A special unit was formed of Red Cross volunteer World War II caregivers in the Hospital and Recreation Corps known as the “Gray Ladies.” The Gray Ladies were hostesses who mainly provided non-medical services in hospitals (including Tripler Hospital and civilian hospitals during World War ll in Hawaiʻi.). They would provide recreational services, run errands for injured soldiers, talk and read to patients, help write letters to relatives, host parties and holiday celebrations, and lead arts and crafts workshops. In other words, their job was to keep the spirits up of those in military and civilian hospitals, which was fulfilling, yet sometimes heartbreaking.
One of the original Gray Ladies in Hawaii was LeBurta Atherton, who will turn 100 years old in 2017, the Hawaii Red Cross’ centennial year.
Within a few hours of the raid, the Hawaii Red Cross organized a Canteen Corps to serve sandwiches and hot coffee to troops and aid workers. We fed 300 people at Iolani Palace that day, and 1,000 people the next day, and this went on for 2 weeks, 24 hours/day until the government relieved us.
The Corps also served food at two air bases on Oʻahu and prepared thousands of picnic lunches. The main canteen was located at Kaikoʻo, in a private Diamond Head home. The homeowners provided their home to the Red Cross for the entire war period.
Junior Red Cross
In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Junior Red Cross was established and over 100 schools joined. They collected supplies like blankets and towels for the first aid stations, and assisted in making pillows, surgical dressings, scrapbooks, stuffed toys, dolls, games, sweaters, and ashtrays. Along with other Hawaii Red Cross volunteers, in 6 months, 1,589,862 dressings and over 100,000 garments including sweaters, pajamas, hospital shirts, and operating gowns were sewn for the war relief effort.
At 6:30 on the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a 17-year-old Japanese-American boy was in the bedroom of his Mōʻiliʻili home preparing to go to church. Suddenly, a hysterical radio announcer came on saying that Pearl Harbor was being bombed and frantically adding, “This is not a test! This is not a test!”
The boy went out onto the front lawn with his father and watched Japanese planes flying in formation overhead, toward Pearl Harbor and other military installations on Oʻahu.
As a Hawaiʻi Civil Defense Red Cross volunteer trained in first aid, the boy was not surprised when the Red Cross called saying they needed him to immediately come to the aid station and help with the injured Honolulu residents.
He grabbed two pieces of bread from the kitchen table and set out on his bike to Lunalilo School, a mile away. There, Red Cross nurses were already attending to the injured. The boy grabbed a litter and, with two other boys (also Red Cross volunteers), rushed to a house that had been hit with an anti-aircraft shell to help the injured. He did not return home for 5 days.
That 17-year-old boy was a future hero of World War ll who would lose an arm fighting in Europe with the Asian-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team and later become a United States senator.
But on that Sunday morning in 1941, Daniel K. Inouye was a young Red Cross volunteer doing what would become the hallmark of the Red Cross in Hawaiʻi and around the world: Always Here, Always Ready” to help those in need.