Voices of Pearl Harbor – Thomas K. Miller

By Andy Beth Miller
thomas k miller pearl harbor survivor

Thomas K. Miller, 98 Coast Artillery, Hawaii 1941. Photo: Tom Mizikar.

In a collaborative endeavor to preserve and share the heritage of the men, women and children affected by the bombing of Pearl Harbor through the voices of its survivors, we are proud to present one such survivor, Thomas K. Miller.

Miller, who is now 98 years of age, graciously sat down with us to share his firsthand experience of the attack while serving in the 98th Coastal Artillery at Schofield Barracks, about 20 miles inland from Pearl Harbor.

Sunday, December 7, 1941

schofield barracks, hawaii

Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii State Archives.

According to Miller, at the precise time of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, he and his fellow soldiers within his unit were enjoying their breakfasts at the Schofield Barracks cafeteria. “I was in the Mess Hall, and the dishes and everything, they just started rattling,” recalls Miller of that fateful morning meal. “And then everybody left the Mess Hall, and went up on the roof, and we were just watching.”

Tora! Tora! Tora!

What Miller and the other men were seeing—and the cause for all of the commotion—was an unexpected arrival of airplanes overhead. “We were just watching all the planes flying over, and then we discovered that they weren’t OUR planes, they were Japanese!” says Miller, continuing to explain that, “They didn’t shoot or bomb or anything at that time, but they just kept coming.”

When asked what time exactly it was that he and his fellow men were able to connect the dots with what was taking place, Miller divulges his memory in minute detail. “We found out when they started issuing ammunition and told us what was happening,” remembers Miller of that hectic period following the initial spotting of Japanese planes above Schofield.

We Didn’t Have Our Guns

wheeler field

Wheeler Field adjacent to Schofield Barracks during the December 7, 1941 attack. Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Protocol post-attack had Miller and his unit heading to nearby Kaneohe in preparation for defense. “We were in what you call traveling position [meaning the unit had maneuvers planned for the following morning, so even if they had wanted to use their guns, they were locked in ‘traveling position’ with no ammo], and so we went to Kaneohe Naval Air—that was our battle station,” he shares. “See, we weren’t at the craft, and we didn’t have our guns, so after the bombing, we went to Kaneohe because they were ready.”

Clearing the Wreckage of War

Miller explains that, following an especially stressful December 7 evening, when the dust settled, he and his unit were tasked with recovery and salvaging (specifically, of sinking damaged PBY float planes at Kaneohe Bay). “I helped haul PBY from Kaneohe to the junkyard down there,” Miller remembers of his duties after the attack. When asked how he was able to get through such an emotional and intense situation, Miller humbly eschews any high praise, crediting “the buddy system,” and the leaning on his fellow soldiers—his friends—who were fighting alongside him for helping each other.

American Resilience

As Miller shares his story, his positivity and winning manner reveal a spirit unquenched by the ugliness of war, and also one that will unwaveringly always return back to the fonder memories of his military service.

“We’d go swimming every day, or you could go to Honolulu every day if you wanted—it sure wasn’t bad!” Miller chuckles, revealing himself once again as not just a survivor but a thriver.

Interview conducted October 7, 2016.  Published October 18, 2016.  Mahalo to Tom Mizikar (grandson of Tom Miller) for writing in to Hawaii.com.  This story is dedicated to Tom Miller’s wife of 71 years who passed away between the day of the interview and day of publication.

What are your stories? How were you and your family affected by the bombings of Pearl Harbor and WWII?

Feel free to write in to napuaheen@staradvertiser.com.

Visit the special Pearl Harbor section at www.hawaii.com/pearl-harbor.

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