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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Journal captured turmoil of life

 •  Pearl Harbor survivors make quiet pilgrimage
 •  Pearl Harbor events
 •  Special report: Pearl Harbor Plus Sixty Years

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

Members of the well-known Vitousek clan recently discovered a journal started by the family matriarch, Juanita Vitousek, on Dec. 7, 1941. In it, she describes wartime Honolulu in a way that resonates for thousands like her who lived through the experience.

Juanita Vitousek kept a journal of Honolulu life after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Vitousek, who was one of Hawai'i's best-known watercolor artists, died at age 98 on Aug. 7, 1988.

She was the wife of Roy Vitousek Sr., the attorney who was speaker of the Territorial House. The couple lived in Hawai'i since 1917. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, she kept the journal so she could send it to her children on the Mainland once mail was permitted to flow freely without censorship.

Roy Sr. and their son Martin were on a Sunday joy ride in the family's Aeronca aircraft on Dec. 7 when a flight of Japanese fighter planes swooped beneath them.

Amateur pilot Vitousek headed back to what was then John Rodgers Airport amid exploding bombs. A Japanese plane fired on the Aeronca but missed. On landing, father and son found one man dead and two new intersland passenger planes full of bullet holes.

Excerpts of Juanita Vitousek's fascinating observations, shared by grandson Roy Vitousek III, are published here for the first time:

"We can't phone, cable or even write you. I want you to know all about us, so I will write a daily account of what has happened. Some day you will see it."

Vitousek was awakened by explosions and went back to sleep. The telephone rang. Her husband said, "The island is under attack by Japanese planes. ... Get out of the house. We're too near Fort Ruger. Go to Tantalus. All hell's broken loose."

"I hung up the phone, packed extra clothing for us all, carried all the food I could get together into the car, took my camera, films and jewelry....

"When I got to the rise of Round Top the dream became a nightmare reality. Over the edge of town, at about an eye level, a long, sharp-nosed, dull-black bombing plane flew low and slow. Booming explosions followed him ... , and sharp bursts of anti-aircraft fire. It was Japanese."

Vitousek's husband was sworn in as assistant police captain to help organize the city.

"Roy came home about 2 o'clock in the morning, driving without lights and full of excitement, almost in high spirits. He loves a fight and he loves a crisis. ...Tuesday morning we decided to go back to Kahala. I was anxious to get into active work."

Juanita Vitousek joined a long line to give blood at The Queen's Hospital: a Japanese American wrestling team, clerks, stenographers, telephone girls.

"They just lay you on a bloody table and take your pint. It didn't hurt much and I didn't feel dizzy when I walked out of the room. But I sat down and keeled over completely....

"There isn't strict rationing but only small quantities of canned goods are allowed per person. One can of coffee, one can of fruit or fish, one of condensed milk, etc. There are long lines at all the stores."

• Dec.15: "I listened to a broadcast from Japan in English last night. The Japanese claimed five American battleships sunk, four more damaged, three cruisers and a gunboat .... On the same day, (Navy Secretary) Knox's report was published. I'm afraid the Japanese figures are much nearer right than his.

"Knox says the Fifth Column activity was the worst since Norway, but I can't think it was Fifth Column.... Roy says the police have not found a single authentic case of sabotage.

• Dec. 17: "The paper today carries an Army chaplain's story of mass burial of the victims of Sunday's raid. Two thousand, five hundred men have been buried in 13 long trenches in Nuuanu Cemetery — more at Red Hill.... Sunday morning the Garden Club stripped their gardens of flowers and decorated the long graves."

• Dec. 18: "Everything seems to be frozen, but why one can buy only one lipstick is more than I can see. What, I wonder, does the Army need of them?"

• Dec. 19: "No Christmas trees! I'm going to get a strawberry guava bush from Tantalus and plant it in a tub.... Cooking note: if you have never tried to get a large, hearty breakfast in the pitch dark, try it. Fry bacon and eggs with a dim blue flashlight in one hand!"

• Dec. 21: "The first week of the war the food situation looked acute. Homeowners were urged to make gardens, but the military government froze the seeds. So a Japanese truck gardener in Palolo Valley offered several thousand lettuce plants, two weeks ago, to anyone who wanted them, free. We got three dozen."

• Dec. 24: "Dad is not home though it is Christmas Eve. The first time in our lives. I can't help a terrible feeling of foreboding tonight."

• Dec. 25: "Evening again and an entirely peaceful Christmas. Lovely and sunny but not warm —no bombs, no disturbance at all."

• Dec. 27: "I was much annoyed today to learn that Navy wives are getting 40 gallons of gas if their husbands are in and 20 if they are at sea. While the civilians who are doing the work of this place can get only 10 unless their work is directly for defense."

• Jan. 6-7: "The head chef of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Green Lantern (Restaurant) are both in the internment camp and cooking for the prisoners. The poor guards eat Army chow and drool."

• Jan. 15: "Dad phones to say he got some extra gas tickets. I had used my last ones and filled my tank to the brim... and tried to find extra containers to fill but couldn't so I borrowed glass bottles."

• Jan. 19: "I've never been a collector of junk but I'm beginning to regret everything I ever gave away. One can't even find a thumbtack. I took some to the Red Cross the other day and I'm certainly going to take them back."

• Jan. 27: "The office of the military governor has issued orders to all motorists to take to the hills in an air raid. Someone had to tell the governor that there are only three or four narrow rows into the hills.

"Our bomb shelter is a massive structure like a block house. We have unearthed dozens of centipedes so if the bombs fall it is going to be a doubtful choice between centipedes below and bombs above."

In March, Vitousek volunteered to make camouflage nets at Punahou School working with Hawaiian lei and net makers.

"The most exciting news of the month is the eruption of Mauna Loa. The military insists on its being kept a secret. Absurd! It can be seen for hundreds of miles at sea."

• June 4: "Midway has been attacked. The town is electric and rumors are flying. Every nerve has been stretched since the fleet went out. Now we hear that our torpedo planes have found the Japanese carriers and smashed them. But that nearly all of our planes have been lost.

"We are elated one moment and deeply sorrowful for our lost men the next. This may be the turning point of the war."

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.