No One Avoided Danger: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941

  • Published
No One Avoided Danger: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941 by J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John F. Di Virgilio. Naval Institute Press, 2015, 208 pp.

Fascinated by the events before, during, and after World War II, I anxiously awaited the arrival of No One Avoided Danger: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941. From an academic perspective, I felt a bond with authors J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John F. Di Virgilio’s introductory game plan and closing material. They explain how their book would fill a significant, historic gap in the literature by highlighting the efforts of those who faced danger and overwhelming odds, as did the warriors at Pearl Harbor. The authors annotate the extent of their scholarship by acknowledging an extensive network of resources, including in-depth interviews. Exploring their inclusion of extensive footnotes and an impressive bibliography, I felt that they covered the bread slices with hints of meat, condiments, and other edibles needed for an exciting journey.

Cliff-diving into chapter 1, I pondered whether Wenger, Cressman, and Di Virgilio had gleaned their presentation from the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan. My bewilderment increased through rereads of the first three chapters. The overwhelming barrage of personal information, families, locations, logistics, aircraft descriptions, unit designations, aircraft movements, medical status, military jargon, acronyms, and a plethora of other details reminded me of the nausea those Soldiers felt on Omaha Beach. Like some of those warriors, I wondered if I would make it off the beach.

Exacerbating the stimulus overload, the approach used by Wenger, Cressman, and Di Virgilio to discuss individual behavior and aircraft movements often mirrored another film—Pulp Fiction. Whether describing the NAS Kaneohe buildup prior to 7 December or the attack in chapters 2 and 3, they narrate the actions of one or more individuals at one location and move their story forward. They would then set the clock back when mentioning a new individual or group and advance their timeline. Instead of providing a fluid chronology, the authors place the burden on readers to create a timeline for both the American and Japanese forces. If readers make it to chapter 4, the account of the attack’s aftermath, they will be welcomed by a smooth chronology and storyline before the narrative suddenly stops. Perhaps this style reflects the authors’ intent to pique their readers’ curiosity and entice them to explore future books in the series.

Stylistically, an audience that appreciates an overabundance of military jargon and acronyms; tactical-level military logistics, aircraft, and weaponry detail; and nonlinear timelines will enjoy this book. Readers who prefer character development, smooth story flow, and prose that does not sound like a technical manual could find it difficult to read and choose something else. The presentation makes me wonder if the depth of research unknowingly influenced the authors to cram as much detail as possible into a relatively short book—the first in a series. Take, for example, the following passage:

The new arrivals reported just in time to participate in the station’s commissioning ceremony, which commenced at 1500 on 15 February 1941, at which time the station’s ten officers and 118 enlisted men mustered at the base of the flagpole in front of the Administration Building, forming a hollow square with Cdr. Martin and the officers facing north, the Marine Detachment west, the Navy enlisted men east, and the Navy band south (pp. 5–6).

In this passage and several other sentences, Wenger, Cressman, and Di Virgilio could have elaborated on several concepts. The approach would have enlightened readers to the authors’ purpose, including cursory details instead of keeping the audience guessing.

As Paul Harvey was wont to say, here’s “the rest of the story.” Stylistic difficulties notwithstanding, the level of detail here is impressive. The authors’ collective passion to convey what those individuals felt and thought on a “day that will live in infamy” leaves readers with both a chill and an invigorating sense of pride. Caught off guard and believing the Japanese aircraft were Army Air Corps planes conducting an exercise, the NAS personnel could have allowed communication difficulties to result in complete destruction. Instead, their collective warrior ethos inspired them to defend NAS Kaneohe despite serious injuries, and their team effort allowed them to develop work-arounds to fire and rearm available weapons, establishing a legacy for our Department of Defense. The tactical problems likely influenced present-day early warning systems, satellite tracking, and multiple communication channels to verify incident reports, as well as other programs to protect personnel and property.

The book’s elaborate photo display is captivating. Looking into the eyes of both the Americans and Japanese serves as a stark reminder of the need for tactical-level details to enhance a story, reinforcing my belief that a nation’s most versatile and game-changing weapon is its people. Before-and-after photos of property destruction—obviously not recorded by drones or sophisticated zoom-lens cameras—struck a chord because they were taken decades before the advent of cell phones and almost instantaneous media. The people at NAS Kaneohe knew the importance of the event and preserved history that we and our successors will never forget.

I applaud the authors for conducting their extensive research and for sharing this piece of history. Documenting experiences through interview transcripts and preserving memories remind us to honor our World War II veterans. Because of their efforts and sacrifice, many others have the privilege to serve our nation either in uniform or as civilian employees. I am not certain that I will read another book in this series. However, I may do so because surviving the struggle with this one resulted in enlightenment and greater pride in the legacy of our armed forces.

Dr. Katherine Strus, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF, Retired
San Antonio, Texas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."