Rounding Oahu, slipping through the Molokai Channel and turning Northwest, she passed Diamond head, Honolulu and came to the entrance of Pearl Harbor. She lay off the entrance until the harbor pilot came aboard and steered them through the minefields, torpedo nets and in towards the Destroyer anchorage in the Middle Loch. As they slid past Ford island the destroyed Arizona, BB-39 stood as mute testimony to the savage attack of December 7th just two years before. Just forward, the massive salvage operation to raise the capsized Oklahoma BB-37 was still underway.* Rounding Ford Island to their designated anchorage they pass the old target ship Utah, BB-31 rolled over and rusting away. Some of it’s crew still entombed inside, forever.

Oklahoma US Navy archives

In 1940, the City and county of Honolulu had a population of just under 180,000. Pearl Harbor and Honolulu were, during the war absolutely jammed packed with servicemen. The Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki Beach was leased by the Navy for the duration of the war for sailors and officers recreation. Sailors had other diversions too, drinking at Bill Lederer’s bar on South Hotel Street in Chinatown or strolling River Street which ran along Nu’uanu Stream, Peering into or entering  the cafes, gambling parlors and houses of prostitution which accounted for every single business between the King Street bridge and Beretania Street. These “houses of ill repute,” the local name for them was “boogie houses,” a euphemism used when suggesting a visit to one was “let’s go climb the stairs,” because almost all were in upstairs locations. There were literally dozens  crammed into the very few streets and square blocks of Chinatown, bounded by Beretania, River, Kukui, and Nu’uanu streets, and as the war advanced they grew like mushrooms along the north end. Although illegal, their existence was accepted as necessary. During the war they were very strictly controlled by the military. The Honolulu Police Department having the chore of keeping them in line. The “girls” were medically examined weekly. They were required to live in the houses. They were not allowed to do any streetwalking, and when they went out, they were not allowed to be accompanied by anyone but another girl. Curfew was 10:30 P.M. They could visit only certain beach areas during weekdays. No drugs or alcohol were allowed. The madams had keep the house in a clean, neat, and sanitary condition. No drinking or drugs were allowed in the houses though this became harder to police after the war started.

The girls from The New Senator Hotel featured in an advertisement in the Honolulu Star newspaper, 1940. Photographer Unknown

The New Senator hotel was next door to the famous Wo Fat Chinese Restaurant at number 2 North Hotel Street. Advertised as such, it was most certainly not. The lofty minded dowagers of the oldest Haole families living up in Pacific and Saint Louis Heights and in Kohala district around Diamond Head must have sniffed at such doings. Their husbands who owned the buildings simply remained silent and pocketed the proceeds.

Prostitution was a very lucrative business both before and during the war. Betty Jean O’Hara was one of those girls. She was from Chicago. Her father was a doctor there and she had the benefit of a first rate education. Though her parents were strict Catholics they did allow her to attend parties and movies with other kids her own age. At about 16 she met another girl at a party who was “dressed to the nines,” dripping jewels and smothered in mink. She wore rolled silk hose and a short skirt, the picture of the Flapper. Falling in with the girl she discovered where the money for the fine clothes came from and decided she was going to have that too. She signed up for the “Oldest Profession” and soon after ran away from home and went to San Francisco.

Jean was a very pretty girl and grew into a handsome woman. She was what was known in those days as “Black Irish,” meaning she had raven black hair, very fair skin and very dark blue eyes. She was petite and even slender by the standards of the day. Her good looks and obvious upper class bearing would serve her well. She worked for about five years in a high class “House” in San Francisco and resisted every attempt by her parents to frighten her and bring her home. She was definitely a headstrong girl. Although she always claimed she loathed the life, she loved the money even more.

Elizabeth “Betty” Jean O’hara photographer unknown

She arrived in Honolulu in 1938. She had been recruited by a procurer working the houses on the west coast. The pay for bringing the girls over ranged from 500 to 1,000 dollars. Jean was met at the dock when the Lurline docked by a city of Honolulu detective and escorted to the Blaisdale hotel on Fort Street. There they were explained the rules they would have to live by and that any violations would be cause for expulsion from the Territory. They were given a Territorial Tax Book to keep their accounts and issued a license stating that they were “Entertainers.” They were required to pay one dollar for the license plus 30 dollars a month for each girl to the Honolulu Vice Squad. Each “Entertainer” paid both State and Federal income taxes which was collected by the madam who actually filed the returns. Though prostitution was illegal, the madams operated their houses with permission from the local police.

Open from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm before the war and from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm during the war, the girls could make as much as $4,000.00 a month when the average skilled working man might make $100.00. During the war they were expected to see a hundred men a day. It seems improbable but it’s true.

Jean explained that the girls could not have a bank account, own a car nor drive one. They had to walk in pairs when out, could not date nor be seen in the company of men and were restricted from the “Better” parts of town. If a house broke any of these rules the police and the military would shut them down for a period of time. Money changed hands.

The madam, perhaps the well knownMrs Kipfer that James Jones wrote about From “Here to Eternity,” held their cash. She took one dollar from the three the men were charged and the girls paid for their lodging and laundry with the remaining two. The wages of sin was what was left. It was plenty though and Jean O’Hara bought a house in the Pacific Heights area of Honolulu when she retired. She lived out her days there amongst the elite of Honolulu. She married a local boy and also owned a home in Old Waikiki.

She stated that it was a rough life and she had several run-ins with police for breaking the rules including being beaten and having her ribs broken. The first time she bought a house they caught her and forced her to give it up and go back the brothel. She always said there was no glamour in it, just money.

The Pearl Harbor naval base was not far away, and when a numbers of ships docked after long trips at sea, the sailors flocked to these places and formed long lines outside the doors to wait their turn, blocking entrances to the many adjacent restaurants and shops of all kinds. The restaurant goers and local shoppers, mostly housewives, would thread their way through the lines, unconcerned, in order to get to their destinations.

Lined up 1944. Honolulu Advertiser photo

The Japanese women dressed in their colorful and beautiful kimono and obi, wearing ornate zori (Japanese slippers); Hawaiian women with their holoku gowns and wearing lei around their necks and haku lei on their heads, some of the younger ones with a flower on one ear or the other; Korean women in their voluminous costumes reminiscent of nuns’ habits, only white in color; and Chinese women in colorfully embroidered silk blouses and black silk slacks, some hobbling because their feet had been bound when they were infants. There were Filipino laborers from the pineapple fields, Chinese shopkeepers and Haole boys running errands for the big merchants downtown.

For most of the Spences’s sailors on leave, Honolulu was a new and exotic place. In those days it even smelled good. The sweet odor of the Frangipani blossom pervaded the air in the city. The diverse population of the Territory of Hawa’ii would have been a surprise, especially to west coast sailors like Don who would have been familiar with the race baiting common in the western states.

The night of December 7, 1941 was a panicked one in Hawaii. In the wake of Japan’s surprise attack , Hawaiian civilians struggled to understand what had just happened—and to make sense of the announcement that their island was now under martial law. 

As military and FBI agents rounded up suspected spies and “suspicious persons,” the army imposed a strict curfew. Habeas corpus was suspended, the military took control of labor, and trial by jury was temporarily abolished. More than 2,000 people were arrested in the first 48 hours alone. Hawaii would remain under military rule for almost three years.

“The Army’s readiness to take over every detail of government in Hawaii only hours after the Pearl Harbor attack was in startling contrast to its lack of military preparedness for that attack. Though it was generally believed that there would be war with Japan, few military leaders believed that it would begin at Pearl. The US government and its allies had steadily pushed the Japanese into an economic corner, denying the Empire oil, steel and other imports in an attempt to force them out of Manchuria and northern China. The thinking at the highest levels of the Japanese military was that crushing American, British, Australian and Dutch military bases in the Pacific would cause them surrender or so slow the response that the Japanese would be able to consolidate their gains and be able to resist any counterattacks from the allies. Most Japanese leaders considered Americans weak, the thinking was that the United States would not have the will to fight a cross Pacific war. It would prove to be a mistake, though the issue was still very much in doubt in the summer of 1943.

Military rule meant big changes for Hawaiians. Every person on the island, with the exception of children, was fingerprinted and issued identification papers they had to produce on demand. Civilians were forbidden to photograph any coastal location, which in Hawaii is everywhere. Hawaii’s Japanese Americans, who had long been under surveillance by federal and military intelligence agencies that feared they would side with Japan during wartime, were treated particularly harshly.

Hawaii was a territory, not a state. The laws that established a territorial government in 1900 covered Hawaiians with the protections of the United States’ constitution. Thirty-seven percent of residents were of Japanese descent, including about 37,000 Issei, Japanese-born people who were not eligible for citizenship under the exclusion laws in effect at the time and 121,000 Japanese first and second generation American citizens, referred to as the Nisei. 

Hawaii’s proximity to Japan made it of prime strategic importance, and put the islands at unique risk. Military officials doubted the loyalties of the island’s many Japanese Americans. As the United States sent people of Japanese descent to concentration camps on the mainland, it hesitated on to how to deal with Japanese Americans in Hawaii itself. 

The federal government couldn’t afford to intern one-third of the population of Hawaii: The war effort needed labor and feared such a move might stoke pro-Japanese sentiment. Besides, the logistics of imprisoning nearly 160,000 people in a territory that was small to begin with seemed insurmountable. And so, they turned the Hawaiian Islands into its own type of internment facility instead.

“I wasn’t supposed to speak Japanese anymore,” said Amy Hirase who was a young girl in Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack, in an interview. “It was almost like a sin.” 

“The community was fearful of…being taken away,” said Tomoko Ikeda. She was 17 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Her father, a Buddhist priest and Japanese language school teacher, was swept up in an FBI raid soon after the attacks. Though she had enjoyed a thriving Japanese community in the years before the war, under martial law she was shunned by her former friends. “We were totally isolated.”

Many of the period’s rules focused specifically on non-citizens who had been born in Japan. Japanese-born people couldn’t own shortwave radios, gather in groups of more than ten people, or move without requesting official permission. They were labeled “enemy aliens.” 

Other facets of military rule applied to all Hawaiian civilians. “Everybody was under martial law and treated equally unfairly because the military couldn’t target just the Japanese who were so important to the economy.” The Chinese, Filipinos, Hawaiians and Whites were all initially suspect.

During martial law, the media was censored, and press outlets were only allowed to use English. So were people placing long-distance calls. The Japanese language ban affected schools, which were forced to close. Hawaii’s Japanese population had long been subjected to English-only campaigns, but they had never been successful. Now, pressure to speak only English came from both the military and Japanese groups desperate to prove their loyalty to the United States. “Speak American,” they were encouraged.

Though it was not military policy to intern people of Japanese descent in Hawaii, dual citizens, community leaders and suspected spies were rounded up and detained. They underwent military hearings during which they were not told of the nature of their accusations. About 10,000 people were arrested and 2,000 incarcerated, one third of them American citizens.

People could be arrested and interrogated at random, and hasty, biased hearings were common. This policy of “selective detention” had a chilling effect on Hawaiian civilians, who restricted their movements and lived in fear of arrest and harassment. 

“My father lived in constant fear of being sent to a concentration camp, as my Uncle Toru Nishikawa had been. Uncle Toru, born in Hawai‘i, was deemed a threat to national security because he was a reporter for a Japanese language newspaper in Honolulu. He was locked up on Sand Island and later moved to Honouliuli Internment Camp on O’ahu. His bank account was frozen and his wife’s sewing school forced to close.” said Jean Hiyashi would later become the first lady of Hawai’i, marrying George Ariyoshi another Hawaiian Nisei and veteran of the Army intelligence Corps.

Despite being subjected to such harsh restrictions, it turned out that people of Japanese descent did not betray the United States as feared. “With the exception of Otto Kuehn, a German immigrant who was convicted of espionage, not a single one of the internees or detainees was found guilty of overt acts against U.S. laws, no one was investigated for sabotage, and only a few were ever suspected of espionage,”

As time dragged on, so did martial law. Even after the Battle of Midway in June 1942, which was widely thought to have ended the possibility of a Japanese invasion, military control continued. In early 1943, Hawaii’s new civilian governor and a group of influential civilians petitioned the Roosevelt Administration for an end to military rule. The military strenuously objected, and only agreed to turn over some control if it was allowed to continue its regulation and control of labor. 

Hawaii finally got some of its civilian government back in March 1943. But only in October 1944 did martial law end. Even then, though, full control of Hawaii was not returned to civilians. Those designated “enemy aliens” were still ruled by the same restrictions, and the U.S. Army still controlled Hawaiian labor.

Most Japanese boys in the Territory of Hawai’i were not placed in concentration camps as they were on the mainland. When the army asked for 2,900 volunteers, more than ten thousand stepped forward, they joined the military in droves, serving in one of the most fabled Army units in American history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team which saw the heaviest fighting in the Italian campaign including  the Rapido River and Monte Cassino. They suffered enormous casualties, they had something to prove and their white senior officers were only too happy to oblige them.  In 1944 the 141st infantry regiment of the Texas 36th Division was cut off and surrounded by the Germans. The final rescue attempt of three was made by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated unit composed of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese boys. The 442nd had been given a period of rest after heavy fighting to liberate Bruyeres and Biffontaine, France, but the commanding General, John E. Dahlquist called them back early to relieve the beleaguered 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 36th. In five days of battle, from 26 to 30 October 1944, the 442nd broke through German defenses and rescued 211 men. The 442nd suffered over 800 casualties. “I” Company went in with 185 men; 8 came out unhurt. “K” Company engaged the enemy with 186 men; 169 were wounded or killed. Additionally, the commander sent a patrol of 50–55 men to find a way to attack a German road block by the rear and try to liberate the remainder of the trapped men. Only five returned to the “Lost Battalion” perimeter. The 442nd is the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. Their motto, a pidgin english phrase, “Go For Broke,” epitomized the dedication to the country they fought and died for. Lest you think that the mix of Texans and Nisei boys from Hawa’ii caused problems you would be mistaken. Combat veterans know no race other than their collective experience; and, in fact, in 1962, Texas Governor John Connally made the veterans of the 442nd “honorary Texans” for their role in the rescue of the Lost Battalion.

Lieutenant Daniel Inouye, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Congressional Medal of Honor. US Senator from Hawai’i.** Honolulu Advertiser photo

This was the Hawai’i the crew of the Spence took their liberty in. Much of the finer establishments were off limits for sailors like Don and his friends. There were the bars and brothels on River and Hotel Streets, Bill lederer’s bar, the oldest saloon in Honolulu was doing a land office business. You could get your Blues tailored or a tattoo, or just walk around and see the sights. The YMCA and the USO were always packed. If you were lucky you might get a room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for .25 cents. For a dollar, you could have your picture taken with a hula girl. Send it home to your mother if you dared. The beach at Waikiki was great for swimming if you didn’t mind the coils of barbed wire and the armed patrols.

Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiian’s played the ballroom at the “Pink Lady.” He was fronted by the World Famous Hilo Hattie. who would do her comedy routine and sing the song that made her famous, “The cockeyed mayor of Kaunakakai.” She was so beloved that when she died in 1979 she was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl, with her Soldiers, Marines and Sailors.

Clarissa Hai’ili, “Hilo Hattie”

The Spence meanwhile, would continue to exercise off Oahu, refining her combat readiness. She ran anti-submarine drills, practiced antiaircraft gunnery and maneuvering in concert with other ships while preparing for operations in the western theater.  The Spence and two other destroyers were to escort the Light Carriers Belleau Wood CVL-24 and Princeton CVL-23 out of Pearl, sailing toward the sunset on the the 21st.  Finally to the regret of the young men in the crew, they slipped their mooring in Pearl Harbor’s Middle Loch, sailing toward Waipi’o channel, they slid past Ford Island, the water slick with the still leaking bunker fuel from sunken ships where the capsized USS Utah, BB-31 and the shattered ruins of the USS Arizona still lay, her crew interned inside the hull never to be recovered. This a stark reminder of where they were headed and why. The Starboard rail of the Spence was lined with the crew in dress white uniforms, all at rigid attention, some with tears streaming down their cheeks at the horror of it all. Passing Iroquois Point and leaving Mamala Bay, crossing over the exact spot where the old “Four Piper” destroyer Ward DD-139 fired the first shot of the war in the Pacific, they silently ghosted away west.

The Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii represented the front porch of the Japanese Empire in 1943. Though the sea war had moved west 3552 miles to the southwest Pacific, IJN submarines still patrolled vast areas and escorts were required to protect cargo and troop ships. Danger was now absolutely real.


Headed southwest from Hawaii the crewman of the Spence began arranging storage for the supplies and gear they had brought aboard at Pearl. During the Naval build up in the Pacific the initial push was for warships at the expense of the ships which supplied logistics. Tankers, repair and supply  ships were being added to the fleet as fast as they could be built, but in 1943 there weren’t sufficient numbers available yet. The war in Europe took precedence over the Pacific. Fighting in North Africa had just concluded in May and the buildup for the invasion of Sicily, which was to begin in July and then followed immediately by the invasion of Italy in September was ongoing. Meanwhile planning for Normandy which was to be in June of 1944 went ahead. All these operations required an enormous quantity of shipping which wouldn’t be available to the Pacific fleet for some time yet.

To Be Continued Friday October 9th

*One of my high school classmates father was trapped below decks on the Oklahoma for four days until salvage crews managed to cut through the bottom of the ship and get him out. Try and imagine what that must have been like.

** Note that Dan Inouye has the scars from a German grenade including the loss of his right arm which was removed in an aid station without anesthetics.


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