The Attack on Pearl Harbor: An Eyewitness Account

More of this Feature

• Part 2: Why Won't They Listen?
Part 3: The Attack

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Pearl Harbor: A Personal Journey
Book Review: Remember Pearl Harbor
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Map of the Ships in Pearl Harbor
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Part 1: The First Hint of Trouble

Editor's note: This account was written by George McDonald, whose father was Joseph McDonald, a soldier who saw the Pearl Harbor attack up close. This is his story:

My father, Joseph P. McDonald, was in the Army, stationed at the Information Center at Ft. Shafterm, Hawaii. His story or variations of it has been told in many books and movies including The Day of Infamy by Walter Lord, At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange and Donald Goldstein, the movie Tora, Tora, Tora, and the movie Pearl Harbor.

Pvt. Joseph McDonald started his shift at 5 p.m. on December 6, 1941. The Information Center was connected with the five radar sites from various locations on Oahu. The people at the center had been on alert for a few weeks. The rumor was that the alert was called because the Japanese Navy could not be located. The alert was cancelled just before December 7. Joseph McDonald manned the switchboard at 6 p.m. Most of the time, he was alone. At 4 a.m. December 7th, the plotters [men who tracked things that showed up on the radar] entered the information center. The radars were to operate between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.

General Short thought that was the most likely time that an attack could take place. The center had a large table with a map of Hawaii. The plotters would move arrows on the table to designate planes picked up by the radar sites. The radar sites had a direct line to the plotters.

At 7 a.m. the plotters exited the Information Center and headed for breakfast. Joseph McDonald's orders were scheduled until 6 a.m. December 7 was Sunday, and Joseph stayed on duty beyond his time until his replacement ate breakfast at 7 a,m. Joseph thought that he was in the center alone. Shortly after 7 a.m., the switchboard buzzed. He inserted the plug into the phone and answered. It was the northern radar station Opana. An excited voice that he could hardly hear asked if the plotters were still around. McDonald said no. The voice from Opana said, "There are a large number of planes coming in from the north 3 points east."

Joseph replied, "I am not sure what to do; there is nobody here."

At that point the connection was broken. (Pvt. George Elliott made this call)

Next page > Why Won't They Listen? > Page 1, 2, 3

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Social Studies for Kids
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