Former Hawaii governor describes aftermath of Pearl Harbor attack

The attack on Pearl Harbor happened so unexpectedly that some residents didn’t realize what was going on until later in the day.

One of those residents was former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi. Back then, he was a high school sophomore.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Ariyoshi was playing ping pong with his friends.

“All of a sudden, I heard a lot of boom, boom firing, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, they must be doing a lot of practice,’ because occasionally, we heard some booming sounds. I thought the military was practicing,” he told KHON2.

The 16-year-old didn’t know what had happened until he got home hours later and his mother told him about the attack.

“She showed me a bag that she had put together for each of us with water and canned goods in case something happened and we had to evacuate and that’s the bag she made for all of the people in our family,” Ariyoshi recalled.

“What was the mood like in Hawaii back then, especially when you compare it to how it is now?” KHON2 asked.

“Life then? Oh, very restricted. All civilian government was suspended — no government, no Legislature. The military took over completely,” he replied. “All of us after the attack were issued gas masks and everywhere we went, we had gas masks hanging on our side, and that’s how I went to school.”

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At McKinley High School, where he was a student, he led the efforts to sell war bonds. Ariyoshi also remembers the nightly 6 p.m. curfew that was imposed, but since Ariyoshi’s mother didn’t want him to miss it, he always had to be home by 5. Being at home every night meant many conversations with his parents.

“They told me things like loyalty to the country and in Japanese, they told me about not bringing shame to any friends, relatives or family, and you would be working very honorably no matter what you were, in any circumstance,” he said.

Fortunately, Ariyoshi did not feel any anti-Japanese sentiment on Oahu. He went on to serve in the military. He became a lawyer, as well as Hawaii’s longest-serving state governor, and the first elected Asian-American governor in the United States.

At the age of 90, Ariyoshi still works and exercises every day, and as he looks back at the fateful day in 1941, he also looks forward to the future, and what it holds for the state.

“My goal to young people is please look at the community that you live in, try to make the community you live in, your neighborhood, your life, your friends, as good as possible and remember also, that’s part of our state,” he said.

There’s much more on the events of that fateful day in stories told by Joe Moore, Ron Mizutani, and Pamela Young.

You can watch “Pearl Harbor: Untold Stories of Heroism” this Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 9:30 p.m. on KHON2. Click here for more information.

Click here for KHON2’s ongoing coverage of the Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary commemoration.

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