Army engineers fought and lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor

| December 9, 2010 | 0 Comments

Joseph Bonfiglio
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Honolulu District Public Affairs

FORT SHAFTER — Dec. 7, 1941, was the opening scene of World War II, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was there.

At 7:55 a.m., two waves of Japanese warplanes appeared over Oahu. Some headed for American warships at Pearl Harbor and the planes on the ground at nearby Hickam Airfield; others hit Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Airfield and Bellows Field.

The Hawaii USACE consisted of Soldier-engineers in the Army’s Hawaiian Department and the Honolulu Engineer District. No district team members or engineers were killed when the Japanese struck without warning — but there were close calls.

Paul Lynch, the area engineer in charge of construction at Bellows Field, watched with horror as Japanese planes strafed the field, destroying most of the P-40 Warhawk fighter planes. Lynch directed dispersal of his equipment, and because of his efforts, none was lost.

1st Lt. Harvey Fraser was at Schofield Barracks preparing to leave the next day, as he was reassigned to the mainland and had already turned over Company A, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, to his successor.

One of the first bomb blasts blew out a window of Fraser’s house, so he ran to get his pistol to shoot at the low-flying planes, forgetting he had already turned in his weapon. Fraser hurried to Schofield Barracks where the battalion commander gave him back control of the company. He found his men in the street, shooting at attacking planes. Fraser told the supply sergeant to give weapons to anyone who asked. Later, Fraser almost had to pay for the weapons, because in the haste to go to war, no one had asked for, or had given out, receipts.

Later that afternoon, the 804th Eng. Aviation Bn. began salvage operations at Wheeler Field, while the 3rd Eng. Combat Bn. went with the 24th Inf. Div. to the North Shore to defend against the expected Japanese invasion.

As eventful as the day was, it was just the beginning of many days of war for the engineers in Hawaii. The district would complete the ferry route, build more airfields and build port and base facilities for the war.

All Hawaiian Department engineer units served in the war.

USACE was involved in island safety before the attack, as well. Engineers enlarged and modernized facilities, here, and at Schofield Barracks, built antiaircraft gun sites, bomb-proofed coastal fortifications, built and enlarged airfields, worked on gasoline and bomb storage at Hickam Field, and built U-shaped dirt bunkers for aircraft dispersal at Wheeler Airfield.

Engineers were also building stationary early-warning radar sites on Kauai, Maui and Oahu — although none were operational Dec. 7.


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Category: News, Observances

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