Growing up in Post War Pearl Harbor in the 1950s
Pop remained in the Navy and he and Mom remained in the Islands after the War. I was born in 1949 at Aeia Naval Hospital. In 1952 Pop was transferred to the USS Nereus in San Diego, where we lived until 1956, when our family was transferred back to Pearl Harbor after a 4 year tour of duty in San Diego on the USS Point Cruz, which was deployed most of the time to Korea and vicinity in the early 1950s.
My sister and I were raised beneath the shadow of World War II. Pearl Harbor, quite literally, was in our backyard…and the attack on December 7, 1941, was still a present memory in 1956 for most adults.We grew up in Honolulu, where our young family lived in Navy Housing (NHA-1), right outside what was then the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor, and right next to what was then the Main Gate to Hickam Field. At the time, NHA 1 served as Junior Officer’s Quarters. My first attempt at earning spending money was shining sailors’ shoes at the bus stop in front of those gates. About a block away was an old two story, frame building…cream/ flesh color paint…with a big sign on the roof “Fourteenth Naval District Library.”
In 1956, Pop was a Chief Warrant Officer (W-2) when he was transferred to the Commander of the Submarine Force Pacific (SubPac) staff as Special Services Officer for COMSUBPAC, Rear Admiral Elton Waters Grenfell
Pop also served as the Varsity Basketball Coach for the Submarine Force, Pacific. Athletic programs were big in the Armed Forces in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
Block Arena – outside the Main Gate on Center Drive
Hawaii had not yet obtained statehood and was a US Territory (you had to get “shots” when you traveled there from the “Mainland”). My sister and I spent a lot of time on the “Sub Base Pearl”, as living in Hawaii in those days was still sort of like living on a foreign military outpost.
The Duplex and Fourplex structures were made of cinder blocks. NHA 2 and NHA 3 were Enlisted Quarters and were of frame construction, shared with the termites. NHA 1, 2, and 3 were right outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor.
Most of the people living on Oahu then were Pearl Harbor Survivors, all with their memories, thoughts and conversations to curious children who loved the military, and who loved their country.
Prior to moving back to Pearl Harbor, Pop’s ship was the USS Point Cruz and it was sent up to Bremerton Washington for decommissioning. I was six years old and One Saturday morning, Pop took me out to the “Mothball Fleet” and out to a pier where a huge naval warship was berthed…the USS Missouri. She was decommissioned, but we were allowed to go onboard. Pop walked me to the forecastle and right to the center where a big bronze plaque was embedded in the wooden deck. It was the spot where the war ended and at 6 years old, my Dad wanted me to experience it. It was here he explained to me the concept of unconditional surrender. 3 months later the family was off to Hawaii.
Special Services Pearl
As the Special Services Officer for the Submarine Force, Pop was in charge of the Officers and Enlisted Clubs, swimming pools, hobby shops, movies, athletic facilities, recreational cabins at Barbers Point, and other recreational facilities. It cost a dime for a haircut, and a dime to attend the movie on the Sub Base. It is at the old sub base movie theater there that I saw the premier of Run Silent, Run Deep starring Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable. I still have the pens they gave away as mementos of the movie.
How the world has changed. As a cultural/social aside, in the 1950s our living room furniture in our Navy Housing Quarters consisted of a rattan couch, two rattan chairs, two rattan end tables, a small round rattan coffee table with lahala mats covering the hardwood floors.
After school and during the summer we would go out to play and stay out for hours, attired in shorts, no shirt and barefoot or at the most, “go-aheads”. Back then, you could buy a small bag of dried squid for a nickel…ling hi mui was also a favorite. Li Chi, mangos, papayas, guavas, star fruit, liliquoi (passion fruit) and coconuts were pretty easy to find growing in different places around the Island.
When I was in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades (1956-1958), we lived on Third Street and then Center Drive in NHA 1 and I attended Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary School. Our classrooms were war surplus Quonset huts and we had concrete bomb shelters in our backyard.
Throughout Navy Housing, there were bomb shelters…constant reminders of Sunday, December 7, 1941.
To reinforce the time context, chronologically…in the 1950s, WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor were still recent history and in the memory of most adults. My parents were young adults during the War, and it was a defining event, if not THE defining event of their lives and generation. It was spoken of often over my life in a number of different social circles.
In the summer of 1959 we moved from Center Drive in Navy Housing to Foster Village on Salt Lake Blvd. The entrance to Foster Village was right across the street from Radford High School. Mom and Pop purchased the home for $20,000. It was “Single Wall Construction,” built on a slab, no garage, no heating system, and no ownership of the land (No Fee…purchased with a 99 year ground lease).
Moving to Foster Village required that I change elementary schools. I attended Aliamanu Elementary School in 5th and 6th grades in 1959/60. Aliamanu was right across the street from Salt Lake Crater, which was, back then, a large lake (at least it seemed large to me back then). Today it is the Honolulu Country Club and Golf Course.
As a student at Aliamanu, I was the Captain of the JPOs (Junior Police Officers) and my JPO Advisor, who later in his life was a State Senator, was Jumbo Joe Kuroda. At the end of our street in Foster Village was a sugar cane field…acres and acres of sugar cane. The end of the street was not a “cul de sac” but a dead end with a barricade and a ditch. The ditch was easily jumped and was on the edge of the cane fields…where I was forbidden to go but went anyway, exploring and spending hours of my youth.
In 1961, Pop was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia…into this pre-civil rights south marches this Jewish family of 5 from Hawaii. Fish out of water 🙂
After my Dad, VADM Grenfell was one of my first heroes (pictured here as a VADM). Not because of his great accomplishments, serving as COMSUBPAC and COMSUBLANT, and serving as a submarine skipper in the Pacific during WWII, but because those accomplishments are what allowed him to be elevated to the rank of Admiral. Going to the Naval Academy, becoming a Naval Officer, and yes, becoming an Admiral. Pop explained that military officers were the closest thing there was to being a Knight. I had the good fortune growing up, to be surrounded by many combat veterans of World War II.
My Dad’s dream for me was that I attend the Naval Academy and become a commissioned officer in the US Navy, and it was all I ever knew or thought I wanted to be.
Motivated and encouraged by my father and Admiral Grenfell, I aspired to be an Admiral, not knowing what an Admiral actually did, but knowing that the route to get there, at least back then, usually began at the Naval Academy.
I was fortunate, and on June 28, 1968, I entered the Naval Academy with the Class of 1972.
A few years back I found some old 8mm home movies (not Super 8) of the Class of 1972 Parents Weekend, which I had digitized. If you are interested, the clip features some of the beautiful sites of the “Yard,” the Midshipman’s term for the Academy…and lots of marching. Also included in this clip is a scene with Mom, Dad, and VADM and Martha Grenfell.
When I turned 13 (over 54 years ago), I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Commodore Levy Chapel at the Norfolk Naval Station. Pop was on the Staff of ComSubLant at the time, as the Athletic Director and Morale Officer. Vice Admiral and Mrs. Grenfell attended my Bar Mitzvah and their gift to me was a gold pendant of the Ten Commandments. The Admiral presented it to me with his calling card. He told me the message on the calling card was more important than the gift, and not to lose the card….which I have to this day.
For more Stories of the history of this time: