Prior to the two waves of surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, then Ensign Frank "Bud" Reanier and wife, Jane, are pictured in their Honolulu apartment shortly after their Feb. 15, 1941 marriage. Left, Bud, now 95, and a Wesley Gardens resident in Des Moines, Wa., recalls that tragic day where he was stationed. Jane passed away last year. Bud served on the USS Saratoga (CV-3) as a division officer (Feb. 3, 1940 – Jan. 31, 1941).
Retired Captain Frank W. “Bud” Reanier, 95, of Des Moines, Wa., recalls Pearl Harbor attack
It has been 71 years since the then Ensign Frank W. “Bud” Reanier, now a spry 95 with 20/20 vision, and a resident at Wesley Gardens in Des Moines, Wa., received a frantic, early-morning phone call at the Honolulu apartment he shared with his new bride, Jane. He was to drive to the base ASAP as there was an emergency. It was that infamous day, Dec. 7, and he did not yet know the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and that a second wave of attacks was to follow within two hours.
Following the beginning of the early morning attack, "I got a call from the office and they said get out here in a hurry," Reanier recalled. "I said this is going to be a long day. They didn't say we've been attacked. They just said get the hell over here. I fried a couple of eggs which was my normal breakfast before I left. I had a car and the other guys didn't. I had to pick up a buddy. I had a '37 Plymouth. The car cost more to ship there from California than my wife. We drove through every red light in town. It was a Sunday morning, dullsville in Honolulu."
In 1937 as a Naval ROTC cadet, he was on board the USS Colorado on a month-long, and, of course, fruitless search for Amelia Earhart. He said, historically, that paled in comparison to Pearl Harbor.
A retired forecaster for the National Weather Service, he described Honolulu as "a sleepy little town." But not that day. He could see black smoke in downtown Honolulu and at first thought the American Navy's numerous, above-ground oil tanks were hit by one of the float planes from a Japanese sub. The Japanese produced a series of submarines containing floatplanes stored inside a special compartment of the vessel.
Bud had arrived in Pearl Harbor Sept. 5 to serve as a Communication Watch Officer on Admiral Husband Kimmel’s staff. He would be appointed a lieutenant Nov. 1. His "office" contained communication equipment like the electric coding machine (ECM) he operated, which encrypted and decrypted secret messages. After the attack, he would be sending and receiving messages between the base and the Naval Department in Washington, D.C., and between Hawaii and other ships for a week, sleeping in the office. For a few days, until phone service was restored, neither he nor his wife knew if the other was still alive.
"It was about five miles from our apartment to the base," he said. "I remember seeing a car there at Hickam Field with bullet holes, and people running around, acting crazy. As we went through the main gate the marine century just waved us in, not asking for our I.D. Just then we saw the big explosion of the USS Shaw, (at 9:30 a.m.) the ship with the bow you always see in flames in all the news reports."
He spent most of the day in the frantic communications office, and then got a closer look at the horror, when he went the mile from his office to the docks.
"When I got down there at 3:00 p.m. they were still pulling bodies out of the water, piling them up. They were stacked up four feet high, dead bodies of sailors. When you see a couple thousand bodies it is pretty sick. There were rumors, false rumors, in the afternoon that more Japanese planes were going to invade from ships."
Over 2,400 sailors and civilians lost their lives. Reanier is still upset for what he considers a major injustice on America's part.
He explained, "Sad was the fact that a number of people were killed in downtown Honolulu by 'friendly fire' (from our own Navy) and nothing was ever done for their families. If you elevate a gun 45 degrees that's the maximum (trajectory) that put them in downtown Honolulu, It took down a school, and an estimated 55 to 88 people were killed with 5-inch broadside guns. They weren't anti-aircraft guns, but the guys were confused as hell to get them," he said, meaning the Japanese planes.
Bud has two scrapbooks Jane had assembled. They contain newspaper clippings including photos of civilian damage in Honolulu.
"Newspaper blamed the damage on Japanese bombs," he said. "Some were, but some were friendly fire. It was never acknowledged and families of those killed and people who suffered property damaged should have been compensated."
He dismisses conspiracies including Winston Churchill and possibly FDR having prior knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack, but keeping it a secret from commanders to draw us into WWII.
"I don't think FDR thought we'd be attacked," he said. "We thought we had everything fine. We had a submarine net across the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The guy in the apartment next to me had the duty of opening the net to let one (American) submarine in at a time. We think two of their subs got in. FDR didn't directly withhold information from Kimmel. I think the Navy Department did. There were all sorts of petty jealousies among the senior and very powerful officers."
Kimmel did not have access to "Magic", the intercepted and decoded Japanese messages. General MacArthur did have access to "Magic" in the Philippines.
Kimmel commanded the U.S. fleet in the Pacific, and was blamed for failing to be prepared for the attack. His rank was reduced. Controversy remains on whether he was made a scapegoat, or whether his punishment was warranted.
"I was sent to the South Pacific from Pearl, first Auckland, New Zealand, then Noumea, New Caledonia," he said, adding wryly. "The French were stinkers. We went into their officer's club and we drank them dry, and they didn't like us very well."
This article is updated with some details corrected. Thank you.