Heroes: Home Front
"...At first I thought the planes I saw flying over Pearl Harbor were our planes that were lucky enough to escape the fire. A minute or so later I knew the answer because a single Jap plane flew on the Ewa side of the power plant a few feet above the trees. I not only saw the plane and the Japanese flag on the side, but the pilot and his goggles..."
- Branch of Service: Home Front
- Unit: Engineer-in-Charge, Hawaiian Electric Co., Waiau Power House
- Dates: 1941 - 1945
- Location: Pacific Theater
- Rank: Civilian Worker
- Birth Year: 1923
- Place of Birth: Hawaii
WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT
ON OAHU -- AND STAYED OUT
Manuel Lemes was the Engineer-in-Charge of the Hawaiian Electric Company's Waiau Power House on December 7, 1941. He arrived for work that Sunday morning about 6:00am from his residence in Pearl City just two blocks away. Mr. Lemes remained at his post throughout the day and only returned home at 5:30am the following morning to find that his wife had been awakened by explosions and had gone out on a pier in Pearl Harbor "Éto watch the U.S. Navy planes dropping practice bombs on the ships." On learning the truth, she fled to upper Aiea and hid all day in a sugar cane field where some soldiers found her and brought her coffee.
Lemes had a "bad" premonition a few days prior to December 7, similar to the one he experienced just before the powerful earthquake that destroyed much of Tokyo years before. He mentioned his fears to his boss, Mike Swendlin. Lemes was reminded of his prediction by Swendlin on December 8; the latter wanted to know if Lemes had any more "bad feelings." He didn't. Whereupon, Mr. Swendlin appeared greatly relieved.
Five others were present at the generating plant at 7:55am, when the attack began: LaRue Randall, fireman; fireman's helper Frank Vierra; Leo Margosin, turbine operator; Ed Grammer, oiler; and Fred Meniecke, switchboard operator. A sixth employee, Art Hawkins, pulled up to the plant at mid-morning in a taxi. Hawkins, uninjured, was spattered with blood. Inside the cab were three machine-gunned soldiers, all dead.
Lemes's lively description of the altered life style and fear-induced paranoia which immediately descended on the island's blacked-out inhabitants was recorded in diary form, covering just over a year and ending December 31, 1942. Highlights of the dairy, never before published, begin on the day of the Japanese attack. Mr. Lemes, who passed away in the early Nineties, was Hawaiian-born and of Portuguese heritage. Some of his descendants live there today.
DEC. 7: The switchboard operator, Fred Meniecke, signaled me and all he had to say was 'Look at Pearl Harbor!' And I said gosh, all our planes on Ford Island are on fire. I ordered the crew on standby because our power lines may be in danger.
At first I thought the planes I saw flying over Pearl Harbor were our planes that were lucky enough to escape the fire. A minute or so later I knew the answer because a single Jap plane flew on the Ewa side of the power plant a few feet above the trees. I not only saw the plane and the Japanese flag on the side, but the pilot and his goggles. The gunner in back turned his machine gun on the plant and starting shooting. The bullets went through the plant but too high to do any damage either to the machinery or the operating crew. We had soldiers around the power house but their guns were empty. They were helpless. However, everybody stood at their respective posts and nobody ran away. I saw a corporal trying to down the Jap planes with his revolver. This looked very silly but he was trying to do something and trusting to luck that he could hit a Jap between the eyes.
Our safest bet was to secure the plant without popping the boilers so as not to attract the Japanese. A few minutes later there was no choice because the concussion of the falling bombs threw our auxiliaries out and the entire power was lost. The Japs can at least boast of knocking the power out but no damage was done to the machinery.
What I saw was: one battleship blown up, a few direct hits on our planes, three Jap planes fall into the harbor, and many Japanese bombs falling all over Pearl Harbor. I was too busy to be afraid although I remember crawling on my stomach many times, to get away from the machine-gun bullets. Why the Japs did not bomb our plant is more than I can understand. They flew a few feet over our fuel tank that holds about 100,000 barrels of oil but nothing happened, although I expected it to go off any minute.
DEC. 9: I now sleep in the power house and come home only to see the family for a few hours. The soldiers around the plant are getting desperate, and we are challenged every time we step out of the plant. They take too much for granted, I am afraid of them. Some of our guards (soldiers) are so excited that when a cat or rat passes by, they start shooting through the fence. At sun-up they go out and see what they were shooting at. At night time there is no such thing as a cat or dog - it's all Japanese trying to get into the power house. I am glad our soldiers are wide awake, but I must admit they are a little too wide awake to suit me.
I was halted by a guard last night. I stopped and told him who I was. He asked me to advance. Then I heard the gun click. I stopped! And lucky I did because the bayonet was about one inch from my stomach. The soldiers are getting more and more like if we were enemies. Half of my time is wasted trying to explain myself. I have to report this to our superintendent, Mr. Olson.
DEC. 10: All the operating crew must now work a 12-hour shift and sleep the other 12 hours in the plant. Everyone seems happy, but I guess it won't last. The workday has been changed from seven to seven, and no longer from midnight to midnight. An air raid siren was installed in the power house today.
DEC. 11: My feet are sore.
DEC. 12: I didn't see my wife today. Hope all is well.
DEC. 13: I feel OK and believe it or not I gained weight. The Hawaiian Electric Company gives us all the food we want.
DEC. 14: I get home too late. All blackout. I took a bath and ate my supper in complete darkness. My wife makes supper in the afternoon and sets the table. When I get home she tells me what I'm eating. I have to depend on taste. My eyes are useless with this blackout. I can see by the look of things that this is going to be a bad war. If this keeps up, I don't think I'll be able to stand it much longer. What I need is light, light, light and more light.
DEC. 15: Today I picked up about 20 pieces of shrapnel from the roof top of my home. I found Jap machine-gun empty shells. I found a few ammo clips. The Japs sure chose my yard for their dump pile. I also found a two-inch-wide hole in my lawn. I dug down 18 inches for the bullet. It happened to be one of our own American machine-gun bullets from Pearl Harbor. This reminds me that everything that goes up must come down. I better start making my own air-raid shelter.
My neighbor's house was also hit by a Jap bullet that entered the front of his home and finally stopped in the closet after it passed thru his bed. Lucky he wasn't at home. The power plant's yard had a great big hole from one of our anti-aircraft shells that failed to burst.
DEC 17: Yesterday Mr. Hawkins, Mrs. Hooten and myself watched a fire break out in Red Hill, a few miles from where we stood. Instead of somebody going to put it out, I noticed the battleships in Pearl started shooting tracer shells into the fire. Nobody wants to put out a fire that the Navy shoots at. I call this very stupid. Soon the fire was out of control. To make matters worse, the battleships started blowing their whistles as if to say 'The Japs are here again!' It finally stopped burning - probably because there was nothing left to burn.
Well, as I've always said, I'm not so much afraid of the Japanese as I am of our own armed forces. Boy! I wonder if they know what it means to maintain a 'cool head.' Don't tell me they haven't been taught that!
DEC. 18: I feel sorry for my friend who lives just a few feet from my house. If I didn't know him so well I would turn him over to the police for a mental exam. He claims daily that the Japs are trying to kill him and his family, which is far from the truth. Imagination has got the best of him. Too bad, but I know it won't be long and this man will crack up!
DEC. 19: I feel very tired and worried. Sleeping in the power house isn't doing me any good. What I need is a doctor and a hospital to rest. But I'll try to go the limit although I am so weak there isn't any life in me. Yet I've never missed a day.
DEC. 20: Just heard that my good neighbor's wife had to get away from here. Poor woman, religion got the best of her. Not so long ago she left her bed and jumped off the pier into Pearl Harbor. Her husband must have known her intentions because he rushed to the pier on the shore of Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and there was his wife floating out. He almost lost his life saving her. This all happened around two in the morning. My wife took care of her the rest of the day until the ambulance arrived. She was taken to the mental clinic at Queen's hospital. She looked disappointed because her husband saved her. God called for her, she claimed. The mother of three children. Boy, this world may be 'heaven' to some people, but it's 'hell' to many others.
JAN 1, 1942: Imagine, this is New Year's Eve! If it wasn't for the Japs I can just picture myself dancing at the Waikikian (Hotel).
JAN 6: A soldier asked me today if I had any Japanese blood. I never thought a soldier could be so stupid. I sometimes wonder if he knows the difference between a cat and a mouse. How in the world can this soldier fight the Japs when he doesn't know what a Jap looks like? This war is going to prove educational to some poor sap who otherwise would spend the rest of his life in the sticks.
JAN. 13: The money people are making at Pearl Harbor is almost unbelievable. No wonder every other person I meet is either working for the Navy or planning to.
JAN. 17: All I heard today is - we want overtime if we must sleep in the plant. I notice that all the men are getting very tired. Blackout in the plant is very tiresome to the eyes. Men that never gambled before are now doing it.
JAN. 20: Had a bad lunch today. I could eat a five-pound mullet alive! That's how much I crave for seafood. Wonder why they don't have it. Fish all around the island and not one for sale.
JAN. 28: The longer this war lasts, the more I am hating the Japs. I do not care for the Germans or the Italians, either. But God help me, I never thought I could hate anybody like I do the Japs.
FEB 2: I have a cousin that looks worried. His wife is giving him the works. He even changed his religion which means that the future don't look any too good.
FEB. 4: I cannot figure out why I tell you everything I know.
FEB. 8: Sooner or later, I can just feel it in my bones, I'll have to pay a fine or worse, maybe land in jail. By this I mean that every military policeman has his own idea of how we, the civilians, should live in Hawaii. Some of them actually believe that we are prisoners of war. The best policy, of course, is not to argue with them.
FEB 11: Saw an automobile hit a Jap. In peacetime, this Jap would most certainly call the police. In wartime, like it is today, the Jap ran away and mind you, limping! I felt sorry for him.
FEB 14: Went to town to buy some groceries. The sales people are so mean to their customers. And are the prices coming up! Boy! If somebody in our government don't wake up, the price of all items will be its weight in gold.
FEB 16: I am too sick to notice anything. My cold is getting worse. Wish I had some whiskey with honey.
Feb 27: One man told me today that the Hawaiian Electric Company was OK before the war but now he claims it's just like a graveyard. One of these days we'll all be buried under these tons upon tons of machinery, he claims. What did I tell him? Nothing! This man is looking for an argument so he can have a good reason to quit. I'm not sticking my neck out.
MAR 2: It's getting harder and harder to drive at night. Two military police caught me driving in the middle of the road. One was very fresh! I talked my way out. I blamed all the welding arcs from the Navy Yard that blinds me and can easily be seen twenty-five miles away. And yet, mind you, the people of Hawaii live in a total blackout!
MAR. 4: I feel fine. See lots of people fishing in Pearl Harbor Navy Yard waters. The Navy should condemn these waters. It stinks!
MAR. 29: I have a good laugh today. One of my friends told me of a woman that was rushed to the hospital to have her baby. The nurse had everything in hand, so to speak, and were waiting for the doctor to arrive. When the expectant mother started to groan from birth pains, she was told to take it easy, and to please cross her legs. The mother-to-be was furious, and replied that she should have done just that nine months ago.
I have heard of quite a few cases like this, and I cannot see any reason for delaying a natural birth - just because the doctor has not yet arrived. There must be some good reason, I hope, although the 'catch' could be that a certain agreement exists and unless the doctor personally makes the delivery, he cannot collect his fee. What else could it possibly be?
APR 1: Today no one tried to fool me. Everything is the real stuff now. This is war time and no time for April Fool jokes.
APR. 4: Dear diary: today I had a hard time going to sleep. How and why the Japs had everything to themselves on December 7, 1941 bothered me and is still bothering me. Unless Congress makes a real investigation, I will never be satisfied. The whole blame points to Admiral Kimmel and Major General Walter Short, but I believe it goes deeper than that. Other officials of Honolulu and Washington may have had a hand in it. Someday, somebody in Washington, I feel, will not be satisfied just like me and many others, and he (blessed be he) will call for a real investigation. I shall await that day with the greatest of pleasure and may God have mercy on the guilty person or persons!
APR 8: Well, from now on I will wear my shoes one size larger. On the day the Japs attacked, my feet got swollen and now they stay that way. Very funny, but that's the truth.
APR 9: Some Japanese girls on the island believe it is patriotic to have babies with our white soldiers. That's what a Japanese girl student at the university of Hawaii told me today.
APR 19: Today my thoughts were all about the Japs. I tried to figure out every Jap I knew. They are all the same. Seeing a thousand Japs and seeing one Jap is no different. They are all alike.
APR 24: I wonder what a fresh egg tastes like? If I had a live chicken now - I'd eat not only the egg but the egg's momma.
APR 26: I was offered twice the amount of money I paid for my home twelve years ago. My home would be the last thing I would part with.
APR 29: The first hundred years is what counts.
MAY 3: Where were you on December 7? That's what I asked an oiler. He was at home, and the next day he went back to a CCC camp on Wahiauea, the island where he was employed. Soon as he got there he noticed a Jap plane that crashed through a house. Hunters were taking everything they could rip out of the plane. And contrary to the believe that the Japs don't intend to return home alive, the oiler said he found a rubber life raft, food and a parachute with the number 13 on it. The joke about the whole thing is that the military police came calling at the oiler's home a few days later and made him give up everything. The military doesn't want anybody in the scrap business but themselves.
MAY 5: A group of boys on their way home from school were arguing about the war. The eldest was no more than ten. When they got to Palolo Park they started punching each other. Even small boys have their own ways of how to fight the Japs.
MAY 9: My two nieces asked me today if the Japs are coming back. They are afraid. Jeanette, 7, wants me to buy her a revolver. The youngest, Frances, wants some kind of protection but cannot decide between a big club or a machine gun. She told me she is the smartest kid in school because she sits in the front row.
MAY 21: I notice that many Japanese families on the island have dogs. Before the war they never owned any. Do they think perhaps that somebody may sneak around and listen to what is going on in their homes?
MAY 25: My leg is sore. I fell over a chair. This blackout is the cat's meow. The next home I build will be for a future war. Underground, and blacked out from the rest of the outside world.
MAY 27: After the war I am going to give my wife a good time. I intent to pay back every moment I neglected her. Hope I remember this.
MAY 30: Met a good friend of mine. His wife left him.
June 4: Today I heard a good one about the blackout in Hawaii. My friend from Honolulu, whom I shall call Mr. X, told me that his cousin and his cousin's wife arrived from Maui and not being able to find a room, came over to stay with my friend Mr. X. About eight o'clock that night they decided to take a bath and call it a day.
The house was blacked out except for the living room, so they had to take their baths in the dark. The man from Maui said he'd go first. Suddenly the telephone rang, and the call was for the man from Maui. So he went and answered the phone. His wife meanwhile was in the bedroom searching for his night wear. When the man from Maui saw he was going to be detained for a while on the phone, he motioned for Mr. X to take his place in the bathtub.
The Maui man's wife, not knowing of the change-over, entered the bathroom in the dark and when she finally noticed who it was she was playing with, she fainted. Mr. X had not been very quick at all to tell her. She was taken to the hospital and is still there. She said she hopes never to see the man from Honolulu for the rest of her life.
June 12: My wedding anniversary. I can still remember dates. Hooray!
JUNE 14: Nothing to report.
JUNE 20: Every other woman I see now is pregnant. It could be because of the blackout, but I hope it isn't because of something else. Some women cannot be satisfied with just one man when there are thousands all over the place, waiting. The temptation is just too great.
JULY 6: Too busy today.
JULY 11: Bought some socks and underwear.
JULY 15: Boy! - I feel tired!
JULY 20: Mr. Hicks, general manager of Hawaiian Electric, notified me by special delivery letter that the company is very proud of me for heroic services on Dec. 7th. I'm happy about this but anybody else would have done the same thing. It's one of those things that happen once in a lifetime, and we can either take it or leave it and I just happened to take it as it came.
AUG. 1: I am worried about my brother Phil in San Francisco. He is sick. Hope to see him after the war. It has been 25 years now since we were together.
SEPT. 5: Just heard that another cousin of ours is booked to leave the islands. She will take the Clipper (amphibious commercial airliner) if possible. Some people are making quite a fuss about going away. I know that the Japanese residents are not making too much of an effort to go away. Can it be possible that they are the smart ones? It could be! Instead of going away, they have turned their money into buying homes. The Japanese yardman you used to know and thought was poor, he is now living in the best homes in the city. And what's more, they have the money to buy these homes.
DEC. 4: I am really tired of the kinds of laws we have in Hawaii. I always thought we were fighting for freedom.
DEC. 7: I had a funny feeling all day. For some unexplained reason I believed the Japanese planes would return. Could today's date have anything to do with it???
DEC. 10: This evening I sat close to the soldiers guarding the power plant and listened to their conversation:
First soldier, smiling: "I see where you have been very quiet lately."
Second guard: "I don't see anything around here that I should be laughing about."
First soldier: "Be like me, think of the day we get back to the front and kill Japs."
Second guard: "I felt that way, too, but not anymore. I don't see why we should go that far for Japanese when there are so many around here. What I wish is to start killing them right here in Hawaii first, then go to Japan and get rid of the rest."
I kept quiet because these soldiers could have meant what they said, and I'm not the kind to stir them up more than's necessary.
DEC. 25: Too busy to report. Most people seem happier, and I feel we have something on the ball now. The Japs will get what's coming from now on.
DEC. 31: Dear diary - today happens to be New Year's Eve, but I had to be reminded of it. It used to mean something in the good old days, but in wartime Hawaii it's just another day.
You can't celebrate with the lights out.
Everybody seems happy in my home, and I feel just fine except for my six-year-old niece Jeanette Gouveia. She is afraid to go out because she claims the Japs might come back. This kid was on the shore of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and cannot get over what she saw.
A very special THANK YOU is extended to the memory of Mr. Manuel Lemes for the daily diary materials contained on this web page. Stories such as this story go a long way in preserving yet another piece of the overall picture that was World War II.
Original Story submitted on 31 July 2004.
Story added to website on 7 August 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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