Pearl Harbor Wasn’t the Only Installation Attacked on Dec. 7

An aerial photo taken after the first wave of attacks shows a large cloud of smoke filling the sky over Wheeler Field Dec. 7, 1941. Photo courtesy of Tropic Lightning Museum

An aerial photo taken after the first wave of attacks shows a large cloud of smoke filling the sky over Wheeler Field Dec. 7, 1941. Photo courtesy of Tropic Lightning Museum

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

When we think of the Japanese attack that launched America into World War II, we immediately think of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While a majority of the devastation happened there the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, other military installations on the island of Oahu were attacked, too.

Just a short drive north of the harbor, several soldiers serving at Schofield Barracks and what is now Wheeler Army Airfield were also killed and injured. For those who’ve never been to Hawaii, Wheeler and Schofield are in central Oahu, about 35 minutes north of Pearl Harbor, which sits at the south end of the island.

On Dec. 7, 2016, a ceremony hosted by the commander of the 25th ID honored the brave soldiers of the U.S. Army who served at those locations. Several of the Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance were treated to a traditional Hawaiian ha’a (dance of the warrior) performed by the division’s soldiers.

The 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment then fired seven M119A3 howitzers in a massive 21-gun salute.

Needless to say, there was lots of action!

Soldiers from the division, known as Tropic Lightning, were the first to see combat during the attacks on Oahu. While they were a brand new division at the time, they went on to be legendary.

Why Attack There?

The 25th had only been in service for about two months when Dec. 7 came. Responsible for the southern half of Oahu, including Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, the division included the 27th and 35th Infantry Regiments and the 8th Field Artillery Battalion.

Hangar 3 and various aircraft are damaged on Wheeler Field after the attacks. Photo courtesy of Tropic Lightning Museum

Hangar 3 and various aircraft are damaged on Wheeler Field after the attacks. Photo courtesy of Tropic Lightning Museum

Since Wheeler was the largest fighter base on Oahu at the time (nearly 150 fighter planes were there), it was a primary target for the Japanese, who needed to disable those planes so they could accomplish their main mission – bombing Pearl Harbor’s ships.

They succeeded. Fourteen Mitsubishi Zero fighters and 25 dive-bombers equipped with 250-kilogram bombs took out about 50 aircraft, hangars and barracks at Wheeler. The attack killed 36 people and wounded 74 others.

The attackers then flew over Schofield, damaging buildings, wounding many and killing a few more Americans.

Pearl Harbor veterans salute during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony honoring those who were killed at Wheeler Army Airfield on Dec. 7, 1941. Thomas Petso (center), of the 24th Infantry Division, was on the airfield throwing around a football when the bombing began. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Pearl Harbor veterans salute during the playing of the national anthem at a ceremony honoring those who were killed at Wheeler Army Airfield on Dec. 7, 1941. Thomas Petso (center), of the 24th Infantry Division, was on the airfield throwing around a football when the bombing began. DoD photo by Katie Lange

First-hand accounts of the attacks described Wheeler’s skies as filled with black smoke and the sounds of machine guns and explosions. One corporal recounted how, at Schofield, rows of tents that housed new troops were strafed during the attacks.

Thankfully, most of the division’s assigned components were well-trained, with men who had been serving for a long time before the attack. In fact, a few of the 25th’s pilots were able to escape the carnage and make it to Oahu’s North Shore, where there was an auxiliary airfield. They fueled up and got airborne quickly, and they were able to shoot down several Japanese planes.

Pearl Harbor survivors listen to a program commemorating the Japanese attacks on the former Wheeler Army Airfield in Oahu, Hawaii. Photos of the Dec. 7, 1941, devastation and an Army helicopter are visible in the background. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Pearl Harbor survivors listen to a program commemorating the Japanese attacks on the former Wheeler Army Airfield in Oahu, Hawaii. Photos of the Dec. 7, 1941, devastation and an Army helicopter are visible in the background. DoD photo by Katie Lange

A few pilots were able to get up at Wheeler during a lull in the attacks, too, and some division units in the field were able to fire back with machine guns, rifles and pistols. At least three of the 25ths men received Purple Hearts.

Legendary Service

After the attacks ended, the 25th helped enforce the martial law that had been put into effect in Hawaii after war was declared. The soldiers also guarded key non-military installations in southern Oahu and manned the beach defenses that were set up.

From left: Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Stu Hedley, Navy veteran Jack Holder, and former Army PFC Joe Reilly smile for the camera during a Pearl Harbor commemoration at the former Wheeler Army Airfield on Dec. 5, 2016. DoD photo by Katie Lange

From left: Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Stu Hedley, Navy veteran Jack Holder, and former Army PFC Joe Reilly smile for the camera during a Pearl Harbor commemoration at the former Wheeler Army Airfield on Dec. 5, 2016. DoD photo by Katie Lange

The 25th went on to fight some of the war’s most vicious battles in the Pacific, including at Guadalcanal, in the Northern Solomon Islands and at the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines. Six of the unit’s soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

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