Seventy Five Years Since Surviving Pearl Harbor

By Napua Heen
Ernest "Juggie" Heen, Jr.

Ernest “Juggie” Heen, Jr. Photo: Andrew Wertheimer.

My grandfather, Ernest “Juggie” Heen Jr., was a young boy at the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing, barley 11 years old. Yet the memory of the day stayed with him untainted as the day it happened.

My grandfather was playing just makai (on the ocean side) of our family’s old home in Aiea Heights, overlooking Pearl Harbor. He could see the commotion at Pearl Harbor and the throngs of people fleeing up the hill towards his home. His parents were leaders in the community, and the neighbors were coming to seek refuge.

A Japanese fighter plane flew overhead, laying down a string of fire that left none dead but forever scarred the street with imbedded bullet shells.

The plane flew so low to the ground that my grandfather looked up and made direct eye contact with the plane’s pilot.

His life, and the entire world for that matter, would never be the same. Japan had woken the sleeping beast, and America declared war.

Patriots of a Darker Shade

Though of Chinese and Hawaiian descent, my great-grandfather Ernest Heen, Sr. and great-grandmother Jeannette were patriots, lulling their children to sleep at night with songs about American soldiers off to war. And my great-grandparents were not the only ethnically diverse patriots here in Hawaiʻi.

Many men of Japanese descent proved to bleed red, white and blue by fighting in the 442nd Infantry Regiment. For those who may not be familiar with the 442nd Infantry, this is an amazing story.

In a courageous demonstration of patriotism for America, an outpouring of Hawaiʻi’s men of Japanese ancestry enlisted to fight in WWII. That they were even allowed to enlist at all was of interest, because there were many military leaders that sought to see all Americans of Japanese ancestry set in interment camps. The 442nd Infantry, however, would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these Japanese Americans, many of them first generation, were more than loyal U.S. citizens.

Fighting on the front lines across Europe, the 442nd is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service. They fought not only for American’s freedom from the Axis powers but also for the freedom of their fellow Japanese Americans held behind barbed wire fences on American soil.

Caught in the Crossfire

Hawaiʻi’s newest National Monument will tell the story of Honouliuli Internment Camp, the largest interment camp in Hawaiʻi. It held prisoners of war as well as American civilians, primarily Japanese Americans.

When we remember Pearl Harbor and the day that lives in infamy, we salute the soldiers who lost their lives in fiery blazes and watery graves. We mourn for the families who lost sons and brothers and husbands. We pause for the civilians caught in the crossfire.

I, personally, thank God that my grandfather stood before a kamakaze and lived to tell me the story at a ripe old age.

Freedom, At Last

As clearly as my grandfather remembered his experiences of December 7, 1941, he also remembered the day that peace came to Hawaiʻi and to the world.

My grandfather’s friend, Marsha Joyner, captures his experience beautifully in an excerpt from a vignette of his experiences in Chinatown:

The Dark Side of Chinatown
“The Bull of Bethel Street”
Ernest “Juggie” Heen, Jr.
As a teenager on the day the war ended Juggie recalls being at the USO on the corner of Bethel and King Streets. “And for the first time I was not afraid; afraid of being taken over by some foreign power.” Since the middle of the 1930s the American military presence was everywhere. Then came 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, everything was changed.

Seventy Five Years Since Surviving Pearl Harbor

My grandfather survived the bombings of December 7, 1941. He survived the war. My grandfather lived to feel peace wash over his body standing at the corner of Bethel and King St. in Honolulu’s Chinatown as he received the news that the war was finally over. He survived to bear children, who gave birth to children, who have lived to tell his stories, seventy-five years since surviving Pearl Harbor.

Published October 4, 2016.

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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