War Comes to Wahiawa



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Wahiawa Strafed Dec. 7, 1941

On December 7, the attention of the world will be focused on Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary of the bombing. While the incident is usually called "the bombing of Pearl Harbor," other areas on Oahu were also shelled. In Wahiawa two civilians died, 22 were injured, and two houses were burned down.

Cemetery researcher Nanette Napoleon Purnell related the events of that fateful day in Central Oahu at a recent Rotary Club of Wahiawa and Waialua luncheon.

Sixty-seven-year-old Soon Chip Kim was sitting in a Wahiawa plantation cafeteria when the town was fired upon. The bullets went through the roof, killing Kim the researcher said.

Richard Masaru Soma, 22, was waiting at a bus stop on Kamehameha Highway for a ride to go fishing with a friend when Wahiawa town was strafed by enemy fire. Purnell said. Soma was injured and died five days later.

Soma left behind his wife, Mildred, who later remarried and still lives in Wahiawa, and two sons ages 10 months and 2 years, according to Purnell.

In addition to the two civilian casualties, 22 people were injured in Wahiawa. Dr. Merton Mack, who Purnell said was the only physician in town at the time, treated the injured at his clinic on the corner of California Avenue and Kam Highway.

The enemy also suffered casualties in Wahiawa. According to Purnell, a Japanese plane, engaged in a dogfight with an American plane, was hit and crashed into the Hawaiian Electric substation on Neal Avenue, killing the pilot and co-pilot. On its way down, the plane clipped a house, setting it ablaze. The fire spread to a neighboring home, destroying both buildings.

Another plane went down just outside of Wahiawa town, Purnell said.

Soma's sister, Violet Katto, who still lives in Wahiawa, recounted her memories of the day to Purnell. Katto told Purnell that she and her young siblings were told to stay in their home at Walker Avenue and Pine Street while her older sister and father took care of Soma. Dr. Mack's clinic was overloaded so they had to drive the injured man to Kahuku Hospital.

The three young children were close to the houses that burned down and could hear shouts from down the street, Katto told Purnell. The terrified children were told to collect their belongings in case they would have to evacuate, Purnell said. But the fire was contained.

"This is a story that has never been told in Hawaii," Purnell said of the civilian casualties. While the military casualties received much attention, she calls civilians "the forgotten victims of Pearl Harbor."

When Purnell began the Cemetery Research Project in 1984, she noticed a tombstone in Kaneohe dated Dec. 7, 1941. Since she had never heard of civilian casualties on that day, she thought it was just a coincidence and the person had died of natural causes.

A few days later, in a Kalihi Valley cemetery, Purnell discovered three more gravestones with the same date, two marked the graves of children, ages 6 and 12. She decided it could not be mere coincidence and decided to research the subject.

Purnell said she searched archives everywhere for a list of civilian casualties, but to no avail. Since the list did not exist, she set about the task of creating a list decades after the battle.

So far, she has documented 56 civilian casualties on the island. However, the number may be inaccurate because of insufficient information. "I really don't know if we can ever determine exactly how many civilians were killed that day." Purnell said.

Article written by Monique Cole, Ka Nupepa, December 5, 1991


Last modified 4 March 2017.
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