Tropic Lightning fights back on the ‘Day of Infamy’

| December 7, 2012 | 2 Comments
Fire erupts in Wheeler's Hangar No. 3 when ammunition stored within exploded during the surprise attack, Dec. 7, 1941. Battle damage to Wheeler Army Airfield is still evident today. (Photo courtesy Tropic Lightning Museum)


Fire erupts in Wheeler’s Hangar No. 3 when ammunition stored within exploded during the surprise attack, Dec. 7, 1941. Battle damage to Wheeler Army Airfield is still evident today. (Photo courtesy Tropic Lightning Museum)

Adam Elia
25th Infantry Division

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Japanese forces attacked Oahu, Dec. 7, 1941, thrusting the United States into World War II.

The 25th Infantry Division was barely two months old when it would earn the nickname “Tropic Lightning.”

The 24th and 25th IDs were born during a time of increased tension in the Pacific. The U.S. and Japan were at odds over the 1937 invasion of China, and the threat of war loomed by late 1941.

To underscore those tensions, a War Department telegram from Washington, received in Hawaii, Nov. 27, 1941, alerted forces that negotiations with the Japanese had all but broken down, and that “hostile action was possible at any moment.”

Dec. 7 was a Sunday, normally a relaxed day for Schofield Barracks Soldiers.

A few minutes before 8 a.m., many Soldiers were still in their bunks or were slowly making their way to the mess halls.

“Sunday breakfasts were different; hot cakes cooked on the stovetop were served. This was a slow process, which the cooks hurried up by not completely cooking them,” said Charles Palmer, who was serving with the 21st Inf. Regiment. “This Sunday morning, just after payday, I was lying in bed contemplating half-raw hot cakes or a decent breakfast at a restaurant, when I heard a plane diving, then pulling out.

“Sounds like a dive-bomber, I thought. Then, I heard the explosion,” Palmer said.

He heard Japanese aircraft attacking Wheeler Field, where fighter aircraft were stationed on Oahu. Wheeler was a high-priority target for the Japanese, as American fighter aircraft posed the greatest threat to their forces.

Tech. Sgt. Jack Spangler was caught in the open at Wheeler Field as the attack started. He was walking down Wright Avenue to meet a friend for breakfast when he heard the first explosions. What he saw next was a plane dropping a bomb, and it was headed right for him.

“I saw the bomb release from the plane as the pilot pulled up to the right to avoid the bomb blast,” Spangler said. “As the bomb was falling, it seemed like it was suspended for an eternity, falling directly overhead.

“My life flashed before my eyes, and I thought I was going to die,” he continued. “All I could remember was seeing the flash. When I came to, the bomb had landed directly across the street from me between two homes.”

During the next two hours, military facilities on Oahu were bombed and strafed, with the main focus on Pearl Harbor. Schofield Barracks was not a primary target, but was subjected to strafing runs by Japanese aircraft and collateral damage from the strike at Wheeler.

Amid the confusion, Soldiers grabbed their rifles and began shooting at enemy aircraft as they flew over. After overcoming the initial shock, units organized and began deploying to assigned positions to defend against an anticipated invasion.

Wild reports and unconfirmed rumors continued as the day wore on, and everyone felt an invasion was now imminent.

The 25th ID daily staff journal was filled with entries of saboteurs operating, airborne troops landing and enemy troop ships off the coast of Barbers Point.

That night, the 25th ID manned positions from Hanauma Bay to the Waianae Coast, waiting for the enemy.

No invasion was ever launched, but World War II had begun, and the first lines of the 25th ID’s story were soon underway.

(Editor’s note: Elia is the historian for the 25th ID. Article information, including first-person accounts, are archived in the Tropic Lightning Museum.)

 

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  1. Jodi Spangler says:

    You mention my father, Jack M. Spangler in this article. He passed the day after Pearl Harbor day in 2008. Thank you for keeping his memory and the events of this terrifying day alive.

  2. Donna DaRos says:

    My father, Walter Yadusky, was stationed at Schofield Barracks when the planes came in. Walking to the mess tent, the men underwent a barrage of strafing. My dad dove under a table, but the men around him were killed. He was 16 years old. He lived with PTSD and survivor’s guilt for the rest of his life.

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