#65 Pearl Harbor – And an Aftermath Story

This article contains information written by my father’s cousin, DeLos A. Seeley, who was in Waikiki, Hawaii before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  At that time, DeLos was the civilian assistant city planning engineer, but he would be put in charge of coordinating the burial of the dead immediately after the attack.  The following is part of the letter he wrote to one of my high school students on January 30, 1986.

“There was much concern here in Honolulu about a possible Japanese attack in the weeks prior to Dec. 7th, 1941.  I had been asked to be a block warden – just in case – so on the night of the 7th, I went around my block being sure that everyone had their house lights off or concealed (autos had to drive without headlights until special headlight covers were issued).  The Red Cross and civilian hospitals had prepared extra bandages.   But somehow, the military wasn’t as ready.

I was living at Waikiki Beach (about 10 miles from Pearl Harbor) – having come to the Islands four years before to take my first job right out of college (University of Michigan).  At the hotel where I was living there were some military officers living there also.  The attack took place just before 8:00 a.m. (Hawaiian time).  There was considerable noise and for a while we thought the whole thing was just a continuation of some war games that had been held during the previous few days.  But someone noted that the gun fire from over Pearl Harbor was black (the real thing) and not white smoke used in the games.  Also, the officers soon got phone calls and quickly left.  Another fellow at the hotel had his own small plane and had gone to his airport (located next to the harbor) for an early morning flight (it was a beautiful Sunday morning).  He returned to the hotel about ten o’clock to report that the airport (military as well as civilian) and the planes had been strafed by the many small planes with the “red sun” emblem on their wings (the Japanese aircraft planes).

Our local radio stations began reporting what was happening, what everyone should (and should not) do, etc.  Once they asked that all the able-bodied men report to the beaches and waterfront to help set up barriers since it was thought that we would soon be invaded (but, of course, we never were).  The call for help was cancelled almost immediately when huge traffic jams resulted.

Some of our planes had left California that Sunday morning on a routine flight to Hawaii – it took all day then for the 2300 miles.  There was some confusion when they tried to land that evening at Pearl Harbor airbase – at least until everyone learned what the situation was….”

Included with the letter DeLos sent was a Dec. 6, 1984 article by A. A. Smyser, a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.  Smyser wrote about DeLos’ report to the Navy and his recollections on the week after the Pearl Harbor attack.  This is a little-known story of what the attack left behind.

In the Navy report, DeLos wrote that at 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7, only a few hours after the attack ended, the cemetery in Nu’uanu Valley received a request to open 25 graves in an area called Navy Plot.  Within a few minutes the Navy Hospital at Pearl Harbor called for 35 more.  Forty men were assigned to dig the graves and worked until night.  The following days found sixty sailors and other Navy work crews added.  DeLos assisted in coordinating this work.  By Friday, Dec. 12, the number of burials reached 341, including 13 Japanese aviators.

It was not in the official report, but DeLos recalled that the inclusion of the Japanese precipitated a work stoppage among the grave diggers until there was assurance that the Japanese would be interred separately from the other dead.

Speed in burial was considered essential because of sanitation and health problems but some body bags were racked up in stacks until adequate wood caskets arrived, and foul smells developed. Some of the first caskets were hurriedly built and were too small to handle some of the bloated remains from Pearl Harbor.

Extreme care was taken in retaining proper identification of the bodies and in marking the graves.  Identification numbers were stenciled on all caskets and stakes bearing the same numbers were placed above the graves.  The bodies of the 13 Japanese were identified alphabetically – J-A, J-B, J-C, etc.

Delos also said he did not include in the report that the Navy did not have sufficient flags to cover the caskets and Cmdr. Houston reluctantly used flags from a department store.  There still were not enough to have one for each burial.

All of the remains buried by the Navy described in this report were later relocated to graves elsewhere on the U.S. mainland, in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii and in Japan. 

DeLos would go on to serve during the war as a staff sergeant in G-2, Army intelligence.  He worked as a design engineer for the Army in the creation of the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu.  During his career he was instrumental in overseeing development of many of Oahu’s parks and scenic attractions and retired as the deputy director of the Honolulu Parks and Recreation Department.  He died in 1999 at the age of 84.