The Day That Has Lived In Infamy

Today is December 7th. So I take the liberty of postponing my Charlie Brown Christmas stories to reflect on what happened eighty years ago today.

Our World Stood Still

There are two events in our country’s history that forever changed the trajectory of our politics, and permanently destroyed our innocence and perception of our place in the world; both involved violent attacks that resulted in death and destruction. Today we, as a nation, will be focused on the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii in 1941. I, however, am taking a more personal view of these events.

My Dad’s Home

In 1905, my grandmother was born in Honolulu to Chinese immigrant parents. I know so little about her, but her story is for another day. Today is about my family’s connection to Pearl Harbor through her and the missed opportunities to learn more and understand my father just a little bit better.

In the upper left corner of this map is Schofield Barracks. This is the army base where my grandfather was stationed when he met and married my grandmother. It is also where my father was born in January 1924. Honolulu is 23 miles south of Schofield, a relatively easy drive in today’s world. In 1922 when my grandfather would have been traveling that road I am sure it was two lanes, at best, and most likely dirt or caleche.

The landmark that makes it easy to know where my grandmother grew up is now the Honolulu City Hall. She lived in the area of King and Queen Streets near the Punchbowl. Both my grandparents lived there until their deaths, and for all I know I still have distant relatives in the area.

Pearl Harbor is only nine miles from Honolulu City Hall. This morning, as I sat to write this story, I realized for the first time in my life that my relatives would have experienced this attack on their home first hand. The sounds and smells of the explosion and subsequent burning of ships and people would have made their way to the area my family lived and worked. This realization has left me speechless and quite emotional.

Google map of Pearl Harbor and the surrounding area.

Opportunity Lost

Dad and his family moved from Honolulu when he was 14 years old. His mother died from tuberculosis when he was an infant and my grandfather remarried a woman with two sons when dad was two. There are no stories of my grandmother’s family after her death which leads me to believe my grandfather was on his own with his infant son. The only story I remember dad telling us was about him, as an adult, trying to find an uncle who worked at the Honolulu newspaper. This tidbit allowed me to find newspaper stories about Clifford Liu who worked his entire career as an office clerk at the Honolulu Star Bulletin. He was 33 when the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor.

My great uncle Clifford Liu worked for The Honolulu Star Bulletin in 1941.

As was typical for the times we never talked about the war. I knew my dad served as a paratrooper alongside Rod Serling who would later become famous for The Twilight Zone television series. We also didn’t talked about my grandmother Nellie. It wasn’t because dad didn’t want to talk about her but rather that he, himself, knew virtually nothing about the woman who gave him life. He just said that grandpa never talked about her. It could have been as simple as once he remarried, grandpa put the past in the past and moved forward. I tend to romanticize the events and think that because his heart was broken he could not bring himself to dwell in what had been. There is also the possibility that her family did not approve of her relationship and marriage to my grandfather, shunning both he and my dad. I will never know. Those stories passed with the men who lived them.

More digging on Ancestry turned up an address where my father lived after Albert, my grandfather, married Beridgetta Ivy and set up housekeeping with her two sons. In the 1930 federal census, the family of five lived at #55 Pearl City Village. Pearl City, as shown on the map above, is just a few miles north of the harbor. Fortunately by 1941 my father and his family had moved to the mainland and were living in Indiana. But what did my other grandfather and his surviving children experience on this day? What were the emotions and fears that radiated through them, Chinese people living in Hawaii, as the United States officially entered WWII? Martial law was declared and thousands of Japanese were interned. There are so many questions that I will never get the answers I seek. I lost that opportunity when my dad passed away sixteen years ago.

Heartache And Grief

I have never thought about all of these questions on December 7th before. For some reason this year is different. I am asking so many questions and the only place I might get a glimpse of my family history is through the little green leaves on Ancestry indicating there is a hint waiting for me. In all honesty, most of those lead me nowhere; but sometimes, a small nugget of information moves me just a little further down the path of my personal history.

So, today as we all look back together, it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will look back as Americans who acknowledge that our leaders did what they thought was best for our country and the world. My father, grandfather, along with Beridgetta and her two sons all served in the Army during WWII. They did their bit for the cause. Our country was united and proud; I am proud of them and their service.

Dad never liked talking about his service. My grandfather didn’t like talking about my grandmother Nellie. I think the commonality was heartache and grief over what they had experienced. So, today I honor them both and remember all who sacrificed and died to keep our country free.

A Grandmother’s Legacy

Willie Brooks Woodring

Willie Brooks received her name because her father wanted a boy. No gender reveal back then, so the name stuck. According to my mom she went by Brooks; can’t say that I blame her. Willie is a tough one, even for a boy. Though I don’t remember meeting her I have pictures to tell me I did. I was only two or three at the time and, well, I wasn’t blessed with a strong memory for most anything and I certainly have no idea about things that long ago.

As far as I can tell I am most like my Grandma Brooks Woodring. Certainly my physique resembles hers and I have her knack for crochet and other handicrafts. I am anxious and mom has said she had a nervous side. I think about her when I do the things she would have done…crochet and cook a great meal all while using every pot in the house and making a grand mess. But the food is always delicious.

I also love chickens but in a city girl kind of way.
I’m fairly certain she never gave her chickens names.
Grandma was pragmatic…they were dinner.

Nellie Perkins-Liu

I know even less about my paternal grandmother. Nellie has been a mystery my entire life. All we have are a couple of pictures and a ladies pocket watch that supposedly was hers.

Nellie Perkins-Liu
January 1924

I can’t remember the origin of my interest or how long I have been fascinated by my grandmother. Maybe it is that there is so little known and the romance of the unknown is always tantalizing.

That is my father she is holding in the picture. Sadly, within weeks she was hospitalized and never came home. My dad never knew his mother and my grandfather never talked about her. They came from a generation where men didn’t discuss such things; they just stoically moved on. To the best of my knowledge her family never had anything to do with dad. I have no idea if that was them or my grandfather’s doing. They are all gone now so I will never know for sure. But the desire to know about her has been a near constant thought since at least 1978. Fortunately before my grandfather passed away I summoned the courage to ask about her. The veil of secrecy was thick and we were not emotionally close to him.

I am working on learning more of the ins and outs of research of this type. Ancestry is a wonderful tool as is newspapers.com. I can spend hours moving from place to place gathering tidbits of information and storing them away like a chipmunk with acorns.

Telling Her Story

No one else in my family has been haunted by her story the way I have. I don’t mean in a literal sense, but in the sense that I feel this is a torch that has been passed to me. In the long run, there is only one great grandchild to carry her forward; my brother’s daughter is now a married woman and one day will have children of her own thus the family story has value for her.

But beyond the family saga, I feel there is a bigger story. The story of a young Chinese woman born in Honolulu in 1905 and who only lived for nineteen and a half years. It was, however, long enough to give birth to my father and thus I believe, her purpose had been fulfilled. Had she lived to raise him, or any other factors of my dad’s raising changed, my brother and I would not have been born. I am thankful for her life.

I am now a grandmother. I wonder what legacy I am leaving for my three granddaughters. What will they remember about me? Have I taught them the important things that only grandmothers can teach? Because of our busy modern lives have I done the best I could or have I allowed busyness to get in the way? Time will tell.