BACK IN O’AHU: Sally Kamiya Moen shares her life as a teen when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor

Sally Moen is always busy doing something.  She loves to paint, sing and play her ukulele.  She is active in her church and enjoys attending the Wednesday classes at the Shepherd Center in Chester. She beams with enthusiasm and is fascinated with what life brings her each day.  It is hard to believe she is nearly 86 years old.  Reflecting on her journey through life, there is one day she always remembers, the day that takes her back to her home. She tells the story of her memories as a teenager and the events that follow, the day we know as Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941.

She was Sally Kamiya then, a 15-year-old visiting friends near the inlet known as Pearl Harbor.  “I was visiting friends near Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning when we heard heavy blasting.  We turned the radio on and the radio announcer was practically screaming... ‘Do not go outside.  Keep all shades down, turn off all lights. and do not go outside, remain indoors,’”  she said, recalling the events on her home island, O’ahu, 70 years ago.  

That Sunday was noted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “A date which will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941. The day when hundreds of Japanese fighter planes bombed and rained bullets onto the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, destroying 18 American naval ships, including eight enormous battleships and 300 airplanes according to history records.  The early morning attack lasted nearly two hours, killing more than 2,000 American soldiers and sailors and wounding another 1,000.

Sally Kamiya Moen didn’t remain inside during the attack.  “I was 15.  We were just kids.  Of course, I went out,” she said.  “I saw several trucks.  One had bodies in them.  So much noise going on everywhere.”

While she was outside she saw a bomb drop and then heard a sound like an airplane. “I looked up and saw a plane flying very low and not very fast,” she said.  “I looked and saw a pilot with his goggles over his cap and as he flew above me, he was flying so low we made eye contact. “I didn’t wave at him.  It’s a wonder he didn’t shoot me.  I noticed there was a red rising sun emblem on the side of the plane.  I am sure it was a Kamikaze, a suicide bomber.”  It wasn’t long before she and the family she was visiting were headed into a hurriedly constructed underground shelter.  She remembers singing lots of songs with her friends while they were in the shelter.

“The day after the assault, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan; Congress approved his declaration with just one dissenting vote. Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States, and again Congress reciprocated. More than two years into the conflict, America had finally joined World War II,” according to

Moen lived on the other side of O’ahu with her parents, three brothers and a sister.  “The windward side [the eastern side],” she said.  O’ahu is the third largest of the Hawaiian islands.  The land area is 607 square miles; 44 miles long and 30 miles wide.  With transportation and communications shut down, Moen stayed with friends for a couple of weeks. “A couple of weeks, but I’m not real sure about that.  We were having so much fun.”  Moen and friends were recruited by the army base to help load bullets for the machine guns.  “Five armor-piercing bullets and one tracer bullet we belted,” she said.  “I think we helped the army for one week.  This was the first time I drank a coke.  They gave us cokes to drink.  I didn’t like it.”

Moen went to live with her cousin on the Big Island.  She worked part-time and went back to school.  Carrying gas masks and checking in with the police department each week became routine, which Moen said lasted about a year.  

Moen returned home when she was 18.  “Dad had built a beautiful shelter,” she said.  “A bomb shelter.”  Then it was 1943 and she went to work for Eastman Kodak as a film developer.

“One day, the police department sent a mass of negatives to be printed.  I was appointed to develop the pictures,” she said.  “They were horrible.  Heads were blown off, intestines were hanging out, arms and legs scattered all over the room.  All war pictures.  When I finished, I went out and vomited.  The manager told me that he too had a terrible reaction and told me that I could go home.  I did.  That’s difference between being age 15 and having fun and age 18.”

Moen met Elton Creshaw Hite, a sailor from Bedford County, Virginia who she dated for about a year before he returned to stateside.  When she turned 19, the war had ended and she was making preparations to attend art school in Chicago when Hite called and asked her to marry him.  She said yes and moved to Bedford County.  It was 10 years before she returned to the island to visit family.   

She moved to Chesterfield in 1977 and took a job with the Chesterfield County Planning Department, retiring as a Senior Word Processing Specialist and making employee of the year in 1984-85.  

Moen will celebrate her 86th birthday Dec. 10.

When asked what she misses most about her Hawaiin home, she said, “I miss the Nu’uanu Pali,” a section of the windward cliff on the island of O’ahu. It has a panoramic view of the coast of O’ahu. “The wind can blow you away and sometimes could push your car.  I loved that.”


Post new comment

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.