Remembering Pearl Harbor

03 Dec 2013, Posted by admin in Packages, No Comments. Tagged , , , , ,

Remembering Pearl Harbor

An 84-year-old Japanese-American woman recalls the attack on Pearl Harbor and how it affected her and her family.

As told to Justin Schapker

At 4-foot-8, Lillian Yaeko Okamoto Hall is short in stature, but not on memories. She was one of 19 children of Japanese-American farmers living in Maui when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. When Lillian was 23 years old, she married and moved to Cincinnati. She currently resides in the North College Hill area. On the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, she recalls the effect the attack had on her and her family.

I was 11 years old when it happened. I remember working on the farm with all of my brothers and sisters. After pulling weeds in the field most of the morning and afternoon, we cleaned ourselves up and went to the house porch to play.

My sisters and I were making paper dolls, and my brothers were playing with handmade stickmen. Imagination was something we weren’t short of. Having 19 children, my parents couldn’t afford to give us a lot of toys, so we created them out of whatever we could find.

Listen as Lillian describes learning about the attack.

We also didn’t have a television back then, so listening to the radio was a big part of entertainment for us. I remember watching my father walk across the porch to turn on the radio. He turned the knob back and forth looking for the news. Then I heard the announcer say, “The Japanese have just attacked Pearl Harbor… 2,403 American lives were lost.”

My father and mother were in shock, disappointment, disbelief and worry. I remember seeing it on their faces. They just couldn’t believe that the Japanese would attack Americans. My father’s brother had a son who was in the Japanese army. Since we were Americans, it was like fighting against family.

A high school portrait of Lillian.

A high school portrait of Lillian.

As kids we didn’t really understand what was going on or how serious it was, but we found out soon enough.

We were required to gather at our school. There, everyone received gas masks and ID cards, and we were informed about some of the drills that we needed to be ready for, such as practice air raids.

The drills happened all the time, and would last anywhere from five to 10 minutes. If we were in our car and the sirens sounded, we had to stop the car, get out and put on our gas masks. If we were in school, we would sit against the wall, put on our gas masks and curl up in a ball.

Protecting our home and family was big priority. We had several techniques that were given by officials to hide ourselves in case of another attack.

Painting all of the windows on our house was very important. This made it difficult for the Japanese to target homes in an air raid because they couldn’t see light coming from the houses at night.

Lillian talks about painting the windows.

If windows weren’t painted dark enough, the U.S. Army would mark the roof with paint, and then local police would come by and let you know that the windows needed to be painted more.

My father also took the time to paint the headlights and tail lights of our car. He left little peepholes for the light to shine through. I couldn’t believe he could drive like that, but we didn’t do too much driving at night.

There was a really big holly tree in our front yard, and we dug a four-feet-deep trench around it for us to hide in. During air raid drills, which happened about once a month, we would run into the trench and put on our gas masks.

Lillian describes digging a trench around their holly tree.

My parents thought it was very important for their children to learn about their Japanese heritage.

Every day after our regular schooling, my brothers, sisters and I would go to a Japanese school where we would learn about the Japanese language and culture. But right after the attacks on Pearl Harbor they closed the school and we were no longer allowed to attend.

Regular school became more difficult for us too. We were discriminated against, criticized and shunned by the other children at school because we were Japanese.

We were treated as if we were responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor. They called us names like “yellow japs.” It was hard to deal with, but there was nothing we could do. It was what it was. So we just did what was asked of us and went about our business.

Lillian recalls discrimination after the attack.

After World War II ended, things eventually went back to normal for us. People began to treat my family better and show us more respect. In fact a few years after the war, I wound up marrying a U.S. Marine… but that’s a story for another day (laughs).

This story was syndicated to and published by

An Okamoto family portrait when Lillian was 12. She is the third from the left in the row of girls.

An Okamoto family portrait when Lillian was 12. She is the third from the left in the row of girls.

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