Editor’s note: This community voice piece is the first installment of a three-part series about a soldier involved in Pearl Harbor.
No one needed to tell William E. Dye when America’s direct military involvement in WWII began. Likewise, Melvin R. Arnold was well aware when the second world war came to a close.
Bill Dye was a soldier stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
Melvin “Oakey” Arnold was in the Pacific Theater of Operations on Aug. 15, 1945 and a part of the invasion force that was scheduled to land on the Japanese mainland in Operation Olympic during November, 1945.
Rendezvous with history
Bill Dye had just walked from the NCO quarters that was located between Schofield barracks and Wheeler Field and had sat down in the mess hall for his breakfast on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
“There was this terrific explosion that blew out all the windows and the glass flew all over our tables,” recalled Dye. “(Fortunately) nobody got cut up. We all ran outside. (The) planes were flying overhead and the bugler was trying to play an alert call.”
There was mass confusion and as Dye noted, everyone was trying to get their hands on a gun.
“I could see planes with orange balls on them and could see when they got to Wheeler Field that some black things dropped off them,” he said. “Then there was an explosion and a big black cloud. I don’t know of anybody that got hit, but we didn’t stand out in the open.”
The first attack began at 7:48 a.m. Dye, however, stated that he didn’t know there were two separate attacks at the time. The Japanese planes strafed the field with armor- piercing machine gun fire. The Japanese attack route that carried the planes over Schofield Barracks and onto Pearl Harbor is now known as the Bonzai Pipeline. The Japanese aircraft dropped heavy bombs on Wheeler Field, Wickham Field and Pearl Harbor. Japanese torpedo bombers were also included in the attack.
Dye’s rendezvous with history began in 1940. He was a university student majoring in the art education program at UW-Madison. He had heard rumors about drafting people into the army and decided to enlist.
“As an enlistee, one could pick where they would go,” he said. “I tried to get into the Air Force but I needed two years of college for that training.”
After enlisting at Milwaukee, Dye traveled onto New York for embarkation to Hawaii. He completed his basic training in Hawaii and was then assigned to the Army topographical section as a member of the Army engineers.
“I was privileged to be in the surveying and trail mapping in the mountains and worked on the construction of the (island) radar station,” explained Dye. “That’s where the warning about where the (Japanese) planes were coming in came from (on Dec. 7). The whole system was new and not very well-proven at the time. The radar operator reported this big blip, but didn’t know what it was and reported it to headquarters.”
Action wasn’t taken because there was a flight of American B-17 bombers expected that morning from the mainland.
Dye said when they came in, they were unarmed and had left all ammunition off the airplanes to cut weight for fuel efficiency. He said later that day, an enemy airplane was shot down. The dead pilot had been six-feet-tall and of the Japanese Marines.
Shortly after attack was over, machine gun crews set up positions on top of all the buildings. The Browning water-cooled guns, however, were difficult to elevate very high into the air. Dye and another enlisted man took a jeep and drove around to all eight emplacements and took hand-cranked siren horns for warning of future attacks. The soldiers quickly covered windows with panels and also attached metal louvers to any vehicle that might travel at night.
The next several nights Dye said that there were a lot of nervous people with guns.
“The next night we were told to search for paratroopers. It was terrible dark. If anyone turned on a light at all, someone would shout, ‘Put out that light,” he said.
Dye did get down to Pearl Harbor about a week after the attack and saw some of the ships. He and many others were kept busy interviewing people of Japanese descent.
“We had to rescue one 80-year old Japanese gardener,” he said. “A Filipino mob was chasing him with machetes.”
Army life in Hawaii changed dramatically after Dec. 7, 1941. All United States paper money was taken away and soldiers were given bills with a Hawaii imprint on them. Censorship of mail, photographs and telephone communications were heightened.
Letters home were microfilmed and sent as V-mail. Anyone eagerly awaiting news from a family member in the Pacific Theater might find that photos and texts were censored. Razor blade cutouts and ink were used to block things out that were deemed sensitive to inspectors.
Dye found out immediately what happened if something was said during a call home that didn’t meet the prescribed standards.
“I called Betty before we were married and made mistake of asking, ‘Would you like to get married to someone who is stuck in the Pacific?’ Everything went dead,” Dye said.
Even the logistics of receiving a phone call from Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack was daunting.
“I was working at Montgomery Wards and received a message and (was) told to go home immediately to receive a call. I ran eight blocks. An operator told me to make sure that you will be at this number at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. I replied OK. That was all,” said Betty (Oakey) Dye.
On Wednesday at the specified time, Betty did receive a call.
“You will receive a telephone call,” she said. “I won’t tell you who is calling. The person won’t tell you where they are calling from. You cannot say, ‘how’s the weather.’ Don’t ask any questions,” the operator instructed.
Bill Dye managed to get a few words. “And then he pulled a Bill,” said Betty.
“How would you like to get married to someone who is stuck in the Pacific?”
The line immediately went dead. It took two weeks before he found out the answer to his question.
When he and Betty did get married in Madison on March 1, 1944 in her parents’ house, the couple needed sugar ration stamps donated by the neighbors to make the two-layer wedding cake. Her shoes purchased with ration coupons didn’t last much longer than the ceremony.
Many basic items and foods stuffs were rationed during the war as was gasoline. Betty noted that coupons were normal for almost anything, including gasoline.
“People didn’t drive cars,” she said. “We walked everywhere.”