Special Reports

Pasco man learns of Pearl Harbor after the war is over

Here’s a rare look back at a personal experience of a man who didn’t go to war, the war found him - while he was working half a world away from home.

Pasco man captured on Wake Island has vivid memory of Japanese attack

By Charles Lamb

Tri-City Herald reporter

Published on December 7, 1960


Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 left Harold E. Smith of 1218 S. 4th Avenue, Pasco and millions of other Americans with a memory that today -- 19 years later -- is as vivid as ever.

Most Americans were in their homes, at church or (if they had Sunday jobs) at work when the news reached them at “stateside.” But for Smith, the “Day of Infamy” dawned differently.

Although civilians, Smith and around 1,250 other construction workers on Wake Island in the mid-Pacific found themselves in a real shooting war that day -- and every day until the island fell to the Japanese 15 days later.

Only after the war was over and Smith was liberated from a prison camp in Japan did it occur to him that Dec. 7 held still another meaning to him than to most. “It was like any other day before the war, where we were,” he said.

On Wake Island, beyond the International Dateline, it was Dec. 8 when the bombs started falling. To Smith and other civilian and Marine Corps survivors of the Battle of Wake, the anniversary of World War II’s beginning is actually tomorrow.

Should Smith ever become complacent about freedom and what it means, one look at a crumpled paper document he has in his possession will jog his memory.

The document, which he concealed in his shoe through 45 hard months of internment, is titled “Regulations for Prisoners,” and is signed, “Commander of Prison Escort, Navy of the Great Japanese Empire.”

At the risk of almost certain death, Smith “lifted” it from the bulletin board of the Japanese ship that carried the Wake Island prisoners-of-war to Japan.

Although the grammar is questionable, the bulletin’s opening statement left no guesswork to those who committed even minor infractions of the ship’s military rules. It read:

1. The prisoners disobeying the following orders will be punished with immediate death:

a. Those disobeying orders and instructions.b. Those showing a motion of antagonism and raising a sign of opposition.c. Those disordering the regulations by individualism, egoism, thinking only about yourself, rushing for your own goods.d. Those talking without permission and raising loud voices.e. Those waking and moving without order.f. Those carrying unnecessary baggage in embarking.g. Those resisting mutually. h. Those touching the boat’s materials, wires, electric lights, tools, switches.i. Those climbing ladder without order.j. Those showing action of running away from the room or boatk. Those trying to take more meal than given to them.l. Those using more than two blankets.

Subsequent orders dealt with feeding of prisoners and answering “nature’s call,” such as: “Meal will be given twice a day. One plate only to one prisoner. All prisoners will stay in their places quietly and wait for your plate. Those moving from their places without order will be heavily punished. The toilet will be fixed at the four corners of the room. An appointed prisoner will take buckets to the center of the room to be pulled up by the derrick and thrown away.”

The bulletin, however, offered “hope” to those that still had life in its concluding paragraph:

“Navy of the Great Japanese Empire will not try to punish you all with death. Those obeying all the rules and regulations, and believing in the action and purpose of the Japanese Navy, cooperating in constructing the ‘New Order of the Great Asia’ which lead to the world’s peace will be treated...”

Smith said he didn’t believe in the purpose of the Japanese Navy, but received its equivalent of being well treated -- if you call four ounces of water and four ounces of rice per day good treatment.

If he disobeyed any of the ship commander’s 12 main rules (other than swiping the rule sheet itself) Smith apparently wasn’t caught. He’s still alive.

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