Eyewitness To History

How could this be happening? That was the Nation’s question on the morning of December 8, 1941. Roy Bryan’s question was how did I, a civilian, end up in a shallow trench on a beach on the Island of Oahu, with a 16 gauge, Winchester, sawed off shotgun, watching the sun come up over Diamond Head, waiting for the inevitable Japanese invasion?

The Bryan family has always had an urge for new, different things and to keep moving west. Uncle Roy was my dad’s brother and his urge caused him to leave Texas and migrate to Hawaii in 1939. By then, he was already, like his dad, Peyton, had been, a skilled carpenter and there was plenty of work available and waiting for Roy in the Islands.

It all started on December 6, a Saturday. Roy, 25 at the time, was a carpenter and had been doing some interior work on a battleship for the Navy and while working there he had become friends with some of the sailors. There was a big party in Honolulu that night and he was going to attend with his sailor friends. He hoped it wouldn’t be an all nighter, because he had also planned to go fishing later in Aiea Bay, eat an early breakfast, then sleep most of Sunday.

The party, like all big parties, was loud and crowded, but the exceptionally pretty girls kept him there to almost midnight. His sailor friends invited him to come back to the ship with them and spend the night there. He replied, “No thanks buddies, I’m going fishing in the bay and sleep in most of tomorrow. I’ll see all you all on Monday.”

The fishing was good as usual and he had a nice “mess” for supper that night. The morning was breaking and he enjoyed the sight of Ford Island and Battleship Row across the bay. It was just after 8:00 AM and Roy thought that it was a good time to be rounding up his gear and heading back. From out of the north he could hear airplanes, nothing unusual since our Country was beefing up our Pacific defenses because our relations with Japan were rapidly deteriorating.

The planes kept coming, and when they cleared the hills, he could see they weren’t the big, B17s, that had been ferrying in, just single engine planes that didn’t look like the F4F’s or SBD’s that flew off of our carriers. Strange, but as the planes came screaming in, he could clearly see the red ball on the wings and fuselages, just as the first torpedoes were released, their targets being our battleships – Japs!

He could hear the rattling of machine guns, then feeling the concussions from the thunderous explosions, with his mind racing his first action, as the battleships were being hit, was to get behind a coconut tree, peer around it and watch the spectacle. He clearly saw the Arizona, or the ship berthed beside it, being hit, then there was a great explosion and he thought of his friends aboard who had invited him to spend the night with them. The poor guys! Then, the torpedo planes, finishing their work, along with their fighter escorts, were leaving.

He moved to gather up his gear, when he heard more planes approaching from the east. More Jap planes, more death, more destruction, as he snuggled down behind his tree and watched the bombers pound our Pacific Fleet. The harbor was all confusion, ships exploding and maneuvering trying to keep the channel clear, fires raging on the ships and on shore, sirens screaming and black smoke spiraling skyward! A scene from hell! And, even though he had watched every minute of the attack, but for fate, he could have been more in the middle of it and doomed on the U.S.S. Arizona!

The Japs flew away and Roy thought, this means war with Japan. Finally moving off of the beach he tried to drive toward Pearl Harbor, but the roads were closed. He was stopped and told martial law had been imposed and he was to report to “such and such a place” and await orders, his guess was that all able bodied men had been “drafted” into the service, or home defense.

The officials were positive the Japs would invade the Islands, Oahu especially, and, he was right, all able bodied men were guarding the beach for the next several nights. No invasion, but the world and the Hawaiian Islands, along with Roy, would forever change after that day, December 7, 1941!

Roy Bryan told me this story when I visited him just before his death, wanting to make sure that it was recorded and saved for future generations. Having visited the U.S.S. Arizona monument in Honolulu Bay several times, there are 2 Bryans forever entombed in the ship (no relation), but for a quirk of fate, Uncle Roy would be there too.