Interview with Daisy Gleason

Conducted by Sunny Layne

February 26, 1997 in Laie, Hawaii

Senior at Kahuku High

Daisy Gleason was born on March 31, 1905 on the island of Oahu, in Hawaii. She has been a loving wife and mother of five children. Her life has been significantly touched by the events of World War II, living in Hawaii with a husband in the navy.

Q: Where were you on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and how did you find out about the bombing?

A: I was on my nursing duties on that Sunday morning working at the hospital up by Diamond Head. My colleague and I were assigned to bring breakfast to the men's quarters. We were going about our duties, and I laughed at her as she played around dancing the hula. Suddenly, we heard a huge, heavy sound fly above us, we thought it was a fleet of American planes. Then we looked outside, and saw smoke and fire. It looked like McKinley High School (located in downtown Honolulu) was on fire. Our advisor came quickly and told us that there had been a bombing, and not to tell the patients for fear of disturbing them.

Q: What was your reaction?

A: I was terrified. I thought immediately of my daughters who were at home, and my husband. I wanted to call them and tell them to stay home and try to keep safe, but we had just moved to a new house on 10th avenue in Honolulu, and I couldn't remember the telephone number. I finally was able to call information and get a hold of my daughters; luckily they were already safe at home. I didn't know where my husband was. Later, when I got off my shift, my husband called and said that he was okay. Immediately after the bombing he had been designated to Pearl Harbor. The whole incident was so scarey. I would never want to go through anything like it again, or have anyone else go through a situation like it ever.

Q: What were the events like that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

A: I had to carry on with my work and be strong, even as my husband was gone. I didn't know where he was, if he was in Hawaii or not, if he was dead or alive. For two weeks I lived like that, but one day I received a telegraph from him. I was so relieved to read it. It said, "I'm okay." I continued on with my work for a while longer, until one night, it still scares me half to death to think of it, I came out of the shower getting ready for my night shift at the hospital, and there was an image of a man standing in my bedroom. I screamed, but then he came into the light , and I realized it was my dear husband, Wesley. I was overjoyed and relieved. I still don't know how he managed to get all the way to our home on 10th avenue from Pearl Harbor with just a few hours off, but he did. He told me that part of his job was to drag up and remove the dead bodies from the destroyed ships. To this very day, when I visit the Arizona memorial, I can't help but cry for all those men who were killed defending their country. All Wesley and I were able to do was embrace and say good bye, because I had to go to my shift. That would be the last time I would see him for three years. I would drive to work at the hospital on the highway that was barricaded on both sides by towering cane fields. Gas rationing called for just five gallons every month. That made transportation very difficult. Very often, low flying helicopters would hover right above the vehicles traveling on that highway. It was a constant fear of mine that I might be bombed. It was terrifying to drive that stretch, especially when I had the 11 p.m. to 7 p.m. shift.

Q: What did you hear from your husband during the next period of time?

A: My husband would write when he could, and each time he wrote he would advise me to leave Hawaii, and go to the mainland during the war, where it would be safe. It took me a few months to finally decide to leave my precious home, but finally I put my family's name on the list. I knew I could not come back until the war was over, but I decided safety was the most important issue. We located in San Francisco. My oldest daughter, who graduated early because she was a high school senior, and that was what the government did back then, went to work for the military. Sometimes we would get letters from my husband, from Virginia, or California, and from all over the nation. He would tell his stories of wading through waste deep swamp water, and other adventures. I, too worked for the military in San Francisco. I was even able to see Wesley again for a few short days. After awhile, I had had enough of San Francisco life, and I longed for Hawaii. We paid our way back home and it was so nice to be back in the islands again.

Q: Did you have any interesting experiences living in such a big city as San Francisco?

A: Yes, when we worked for the military engineers department, we were allowed to carry a gun for protection. I remember driving in the middle of a busy part of the city, and all of a sudden, a man opened the passenger door, and was sitting right next to me! I didn't know what to say or do, so I asked him where he would like to go. He told me where his destination was. After a few minutes, he saw that my hand was sitting close to my gun. He then told me "Lady, don't worry, I won't hurt you" and he didn't. I was lucky.

Q: What was the media coverage of the war like in the places where you lived?

A: There was only very little information concerning the war. The media didn't even tell us that there had been more ships that were bombed and sunk, besides the Arizona. I realized, after the war was over and I found out how many things were bombed during the war, why my husband had been so adamant about us leaving for the mainland. I was grateful. We were made aware of Hitler's death camps near the end of the war, but never given very many details.

Q: What were people's attitude towards the Japanese during this time?

A: They were, on the whole, very negative, very suspicious, and there was a lot of prejudice going on. Many people I knew would not have worked for even American Japanese. The Japanese were very cruel during the war. We are lucky they didn't do any more really serious damage to us, because I believe that Hawaii could have been taken just as the Philippine Islands were taken by the Japanese. They were very strong. It took us two years to hurt the Japanese defense at all.

Q: How long was it until your lifestyle was able to get back to "normal"?

A: Well, it would still be a long time until I was able to see Wesley, but the relief of the war being over was wonderful. Although many men found times hard, because there were many, many more competent females, it was a challenge to find a job. But despite hard times, our country was able to pull together and eventually overcome.

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