ERBzine Volume 1023
ERB  portrait by John Coleman Burroughs
 From Tarzana, California
Memories from the 
Danton Burroughs
Family Archive
Danton Burroughs
ERB at work in his Honolulu office
Edgar Rice Burroughs and son Hulbert
The Wartime Letters of the 
Dean of Correspondents in the WWII Pacific Theatre
Edgar Rice Burroughs
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard ~ Honolulu

Collated by Bill Hillman

The letters are to daughter Joan Burroughs unless otherwise stated

Edgar Rice Burroughs and son Hulbert
were in Honolulu when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.
The following letters reveal their experiences through the attack:
Honolulu, December 9, 1941

To Whomever Gives a Damn:

As our experiences during and immediately after the Jap blitz may interest several of our friends and relatives, I'll record what I recall, send the ms to Tarzana with a request to Mildred to mimeograph several copies and mail them around. This will save me the trouble of writing the whole thing over a number of times. With the principal facts you are all acquainted, so I'll just set down our personal experiences and reactions, together with some of the wild rumors which circulated. You will be fully as capable as I to judge of the truth of such rumors.

When we awoke Sunday morning, December 7th, we heard a great deal of firing, some of it very loud; but we hear a great deal of firing here and had been informed by the newspapers the day before that heavy guns would be fired from various parts of the island during the ensuing several days; so we thought nothing of it and went to breakfast.

After breakfast we dressed for tennis and went out to the court which is on a point that projects out into the lagoon, giving an unobstructed view of the coast from Diamond Head in one direction far beyond Pearl Harbor to Barbers Point, with the Waianae Mountain Range looming up in the background.

There is an area of sand for sun bathers beyond the ocean end of the tennis court, and soon a great many of the hotel guests were congregated there watching the show. Bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor. We could hear the detonations and see the bursts quite plainly. Anti-aircraft shells were bursting, fighting ships at sea were firing. We could see them plainly. Bombs were falling in the ocean not far from us. One nearly hit a large freighter or supply ship lying off coast perhaps a mile or so from us. It got out of there in a hurry. Black smoke was billowing up from Pearl Harbor. One among us, brighter than the others, said that it was a practice smoke screen. It was either an oil tank or a tanker or our burning fighting ships. We don't know yet. For several hours we alternated tennis while watching the show they were putting on before we learned definitely that it was the real McCoy. Even the truth did not interfere with our tennis, and I should like to say right here that all the people were calm and unafraid. There were several Navy women whose husbands were probably in it somewhere. Mrs. A's husband is attached to an old light cruiser then lying in the harbor. She knew that he was down there where all the bombing was going on. Cecile's husband commands a submarine which was at Manila the last she heard. Both these girls carried on quite normally, though Mrs. A. told me the next day that she had eaten scarcely anything since the beginning of the attack.

Cecile plays tennis with Hulbert and me every day, and she played with us all during the battle. There are many army and navy wives here, but there was no sign of hysteria. Every report that we have had concerning the civilians on the islands has been the same. There has been no panic, but a great deal of cooperation with the military on the part of civilians, a very small percentage of whom are 100 white. But white, black, brown, or yellow, they have all been splendid.

Bombs fell in the city not far from us. Smoke was rising from several fires. Ambulance, police, and fire sirens were screaming almost continuously. Anti-aircraft shells were bursting all over the place. I think that many of our civilian casualties, and there were a great many of them, were caused by our own fire. But of course that cannot be helped.

There seems to be more praise than bitterness expressed for the Japs. As one of the navy wives expressed it: "They caught us with our pants down." If anyone tells you that they can't shoot straight, you can give him the laugh. They flew in over Pearl Harbor at about fifty feet and sunk three cruisers with aerial torpedoes. They bombed hell out of Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Bellows Field, and the brand new navy flying field at Kaneohe Bay. They flew low over Rogers Airport (civilian) and machine gunned the place. I am told that we lost two hundred planes that never had a chance to get off the ground. Our fliers were not there! We take the weekends off from war. It was a long time before we saw one of our planes in the air. The navy also takes weekends off and most of our ships were undermanned. The Japs had been well informed as to the best day and hour to strike. The attack was brilliantly conceived and executed. It smelled of German efficiency.

We understand that six enemy planes were shot down. Something like fifty-four came over in the first wave. A navy man told me that every gun on every ship in Pearl Harbor was firing at one lone Jap who was flying low while bombing, and every shot missed him. One soldier is credited with bringing down one Jap with an automatic rifle. The Jap was flying low straight toward him, machine gunning as he came. The soldier said that he was scared stiff, but he kept firing and had the thrill of seeing the Jap crash just beyond him.

During all of this, we continued to play tennis at the hotel. There was nothing else that we could do as orders were constantly being broadcast to civilians to keep off the streets, to stay home, and not to use the telephone; also to remain calm.

I think our tennis is worthy of a few remarks. It is paddle tennis. We play it on a court that is not even quite a singles court, but we play both doubles and singles on it. The hotel had to remove some palm trees to build it, but they did not remove enough. There are several practically in the court. According to our ground rules if a serve bounces into a palm tree it is considered a net shot and may be taken over. Very often we have run around a palm tree to return a shot. The end aprons are very short and there are not aprons on the sides, just a drop of a couple of inches to the ground among the palm trees. When an angling shot comes over, we have to look down first to see where we are stepping before we can get into position to return it. It is all very exciting. I can't understand why there are not a lot of sprained ankles. Close on one side of the court is the lagoon, which is also close to the ocean end of the court. When a ball goes into the ocean, someone has to wade in and get it - usually Hulbert. We play with regular tennis balls instead of the sponge rubber paddle tennis balls, so the game is rather fast for a too small court; but we get exercise and have a lot of fun dodging palm trees.

Shortly after lunch Sunday a radio call came in for all able-bodied men at the hotel to report to Pier 2; so Hulbert, a Mr. Rost, and I drove down in my car. They didn't want us at Pier 2 and told us to try the wharf at Kewalo Basin. This is where the Japanese fishing sampans are tied up. There, they took our names and told us to report back at 4:30. We had signed up for guard duty.

We came back at 4:30 and signed up again in another company. Nothing happened; so we found someone else with shoulder bars and signed up again in his company. We were now definitely signed up. There was much confusion. No one seemed to know anything. Sand bag machine gun emplacements had been erected pointing both inland and toward the beach. We never knew from which direction the enemy was supposed to come. Parachute troops were reported off Barbers Point about five miles. There was still anti-aircraft fire, if I recall correctly. Dense smoke was arising from Pearl Harbor.

We were finally ordered to the Honolulu Tuna Packers Ltd. warehouse on the wharf, where Springfield rifles and ten rounds of ammunition were issued to each of us. Hulbert, Rost, and I were in Patrol 2, Company A, 1st Battalion. We stuck together - The Three Musketeers. We were then told that we would be on sentry duty from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Just after dark we were sent over to the Kewalo Inn, a night spot, where we were given soup, sandwiches, and coffee. A few dim lights were burning in the back room where we ate. Volunteer girls waited on the tables, or rather cleared them. We waited on ourselves. One of the girls who came to our table is a photographer for Beers, whose studio is next to our office. She photographs patrons of the Kewalo Inn. But there was no photographing nor floor show Sunday night.

Later (after lunch): From a "usually reliable source" we learned this noon that three enemy submarines entered Pearl Harbor Sunday morning and torpedoed our ships. All three were sunk. Our informant said that he asked the officer who told him this how three enemy submarines could get into Pearl Harbor. The reply was that they gave the correct signal. Another report is that we have sunk eighteen Japanese fighting ships, that we have lost two carriers and the Japs one.

Back to Sunday: After we had eaten, Hulbert and I were detailed to guard twenty-two enemy aliens in a wire enclosure on the wharf. Hulbert was at the back end; I was at the front where the gate was. There was no lock on the gate. I also had to challenge everybody who passed my post entering the wharf and examine their passes. Inasmuch as I had no flashlight, my identification of passers-by was sketchy. The entire U.S. Army Engineering Department passed several times. My chief duty seemed to be to make the prisoners and others throw away lighted cigarettes and step on them.

Rost was posted at the door of the packing company's engine room with orders to let no one enter. Rost is a short, fat, middle-aged man. I believe he is a well-known dog fancier and kennel show judge. He said that the first thing that happened was a Filipino who dropped down from the ceiling scaring Rost out of seven years' growth. Rost corralled him and called the sergeant of the guard. Then some men came and tried to get into the engine room. Rost wouldn't let them although they said they worked there. He said he had orders to let no one in, not even a general. So an officer came and tried to get in. Rost kept him out. Finally the officer of the guard, a regular, came and relieved Rost - he was too good.

I was told that the FBI would send a truck for my prisoners. A police car came for them and I wouldn't let them have them until an officer came and O.K.'d it. We had our orders, by God, and we were going to obey them; and as we were able to convince everyone. We guarded the prisoners for over an hour, and then I thought we'd get some rest; but no. Every time our company commander saw me, he had something for me to do that required walking - and I hate walking. And then, at 10 p.m., we, Hulbert and I, were given a post a long block long on Ward Avenue, the street that runs into the Fisherman's Wharf from inland. It was very dark, as the whole city was blacked out and it was raining much of the time. We had to stop and question every pedestrian and the driver of every car. I halted the United States Army in jeeps and trucks a dozen times or more and several police cars. I reminded myself of a funny little Shriner I once saw directing traffic in Las Vegas, Nevada, at midnight. Was he taking it big!

December 12th

Hulbert and I are now attached to G-I at Iolani Palace. We are chauffeurs, because we each have a car. I have mine, and we borrowed one from Cecile Bumside for Hulbert. Mrs. Bumside is the girl with two little tots, whose husband commands a sub at Manila. She hasn't heard a word from him and does not expect to for God knows when.

I work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner at hotel is 4:30 on account of Blackout - then Blackout; so I have no opportunity to write much. Damn the Blackout! It is, for most of us, the worst part of this war. Damn Hitler! Damn the Japs! Damn everybody! ! !

I'll send along what I have written, and maybe some day I can add to it.

In closing, this I want to repeat that the spirit of the people here is marvellous. Regardless of what you may hear, there is practically no sabotage here - absolutely none that I have heard of from official sources. White, black, brown, yellow - everyone is working willingly and with a broad grin. There has never been any panic, and what fear there is is well camouflaged. We are more afraid of the little boys with Springfields than we are of the Japs.

Aloha! Ed.

To Whomever Gives a Damn(continued)

December 12th
Hulbert and I walked post in the dark and the rain from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on the 8th, Hulbert making one arrest of a pedestrian without a pass. As I had no flashlight and couldn't have read the passes if I had had, I made no arrests. Furthermore, I had been given orders to let no one approach to within less than fifteen feet of me. At this absurd distance, I was supposed to read passes in the dark; so I let everybody pass, knowing they would be halted innumerable times before they reached Fisherman's Wharf. All night one could hear "Halt!" "Halt!" popping all over the landscape.

It must have been some time after midnight that someone shouted for one of us to come to the guard tent. Hulbert, thinking that this might mean relief from walking post, generously insisted that I answer the summons. I did. And I was detailed as one of the guards to march some twenty or thirty enemy aliens to the Immigration Station for internment. By this time, both shoulders were sore from packing my Springfield and my feet had practically ceased to exist as such, being merely two pains. The Immigration Station is a long way from Kewalo Basin. Before we got there, the seat of my pants was dragging on the pavement. We marched our prisoners into a large warehouse. Fortunately for the preservation of the Union and the safety of Democracy, there was a cot just inside the doorway. I immediately sat on it, mentally announcing that I would remain there indefinitely rather than walk back to Kewalo Basin. Shortly after, a good Samaritan said that he would take us back in the truck. What was left of my legs and feet gave one last, spasmodic reaction to, by this time, a slightly corroded iron will, and landed me on the tail board of a truck. I may never go to heaven, the chances are that I shall not; but at that moment I experienced all the spiritual exaltation and beatific happiness that those who are to enter the Pearly Gates are led to expect. Instead of upon a cloud, I sat upon the equally moist rear end of a truck; in place of a harp, I carried a Springfield; and for a halo, I wore a soggy felt hat from Oviatt's.

Arriving at Kewalo Basin, I resumed walking post.

During our tour of duty (I am a trifle hazy as to the chronology of events) there appeared to be a second attack on Pearl Harbor. There were loud explosions, bursts of anti-aircraft shells, and the sky above the Harbor was illuminated by red anti-aircraft tracer bullets, describing graceful curves, crossing and recrossing until lost in the clouds. It was a magnificent and awe-inspiring spectacle. A civilian guard machine-gun detachment on the roof of Felix's Cafe on Fisherman's Wharf blasted away in the general direction of Pearl Harbor ten miles away. They had a gun that had not been assembled previously for fifteen years and their mouths were constantly watering to try it out. During the night they also fired over our heads at rocks showing above the surface of the water out in the lagoon. They almost looked like boats carrying landing parties.

This same detachment was not without resourcefulness. They had rigged up a tarpaulin-covered cubbyhole about the size of a pup tent close to their gun, into which they could crawl to have a smoke; and their commanding officer had invited me to take advantage of it; so Hulbert, Rost, and I went up.

This Felix, upon whose roof the machine was was mounted, is the same restaurateur who operated the ill-fated Felix's Castle on Sunset Boulevard about three years ago. When he found that I had once been a patron of his Hollywood folly, he gave me breakfast and introduced me to his staff. He has a less pretentious but more profitable place here, specializing in sea foods. He is a very nice person.

After being relieved from sentry duty sometime after 2:00 a.m., Hulbert, Rost, and I managed to elude our commanding officer and seek repose. We tried to find it in the shipping room of the Honolulu Tuna Packers, Ltd. So was the repose. We lay down on a cement floor that had no soft spots. The air was filled with the aroma of departed tuna, cigarette smoke, sweat, and a part of the 27th Infantry that had been on duty for several weeks without benefit of baths.

Hulbert, the louse, slept. Rost draped himself on a table top. I lay down for a while, and then had so much difficulty getting up again that I determined to ossify in a sitting position.

At the first streak of dawn we went out into the open again, where people commenced ordering us around once more. Presently there was another alarm, and we were ordered to take cover. Everyone lay or squatted behind sandbags, lumber, or what have you. With guns pointing in all directions, no one knew from what direction the enemy was supposed to be coming. I say everyone, but there was one exception. I did no squatting nor no lying, even when Hulbert tried to drag me down. I was not animated by any excess of courage but by a definite conviction that if I once got down, I should never be able to get up again. Portions of my anatomy that ordinarily bend fairly well seemed to be on the verge of bending no longer.

About eight o'clock, having gotten the war off to a good start, we went home.

The next morning, we went to work for Civilian Defense at Iolani Palace as messengers and chauffeurs.

Hulbert thinks it remarkable that he and I should have done sentry duty together; but when the next war comes along in twenty years or so, I'll probably be walking with Mike, my only grandson.

In closing this I want to repeat that the spirit of the people here is marvelous. Regardless of what you may hear, there is practically no sabotage here . . .  absolutely none that I have ever heard of from offficial sources. White, black brown, yellow . . . everyone is working willingly with a broad grin. There has never been any panic, and what fear there is is well camouflaged. We are more afraid of the little boys with Springfields than we are of the Japs. Aloha!"

1/8/42. (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
Soon after Pearl Harbor, Hulbert joined the Air Force, and Ed was appointed a War Correspondent for United Press at the age of sixty-seven, the oldest accredited correspondent in the Pacific Theatre. Hulbert went on to become a Major and attained a splendid record in the photographic section of the Air Force. He had many thrilling experiences photographing under fire all over the South Pacific. Ed traveled all over the Battle Zone by plane and battleship, reporting his experiences. He made it a habit to interview GI's and send the interviews to their home town papers so their parents would be able to read about where they were and what they were doing. He met many of the high-ranking officers and was always given the VIP treatment. He also had many hair-raising experiences under battle conditions. He was on a ship that was attacked by a Kamikaze. He was rather old for the rigorous action, climbing ship's ladders, jumping into landing boats, and living the stress and strain of battle. He held up on sheer guts because he felt it was his way to do his part in the war effort.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was extremely patriotic, as the following poem plainly demonstrates:
Is There a War?
"Is there a war that's worth the toll of blood and pain
Of buoyant youth that may not laugh or love again?
Is there a war that ever can
Be wholly justified by man?
What can the glory of the chieftains mean to one
Who, mute and frozen, lies beneath his useless gun?
Or to the wife or mother wondering why such thing
Can be, or what of good it possibly can bring?
Is there a war which man can sanely contemplate
That's worth the tears and agony, the grief and hate?
Yes, such a war can surely be
If it but set or keep man free.

Source: The Danton Burroughs and ERB, Inc. Collection
Copyright 2003 ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

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ERB -The Oldest War Correspondent of WWII

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1941: ERBzine 1129 
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