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

VADM 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.

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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.
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This was when I began to wish my Mom and Dad “Happy Pearl Harbor Day” (I am sure with a little coaching from them…had to be, don’t you think).

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.

quonset

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 🙂

(In the background in this photo, which hung in Pop’s garage workshop in later years, now has a place of respect in my garage workshop, is what I always believed was a Regulus One Missile.)
RADM Grenfel

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.

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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.

I graduated from USNA on June 7, 1972
Graduation
Pop, Mom, and a freshly minted Ensign, USN

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.
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For more Stories of the history of this time:

http://bit.ly/2h3Mnhi

http://bit.ly/2gACpDj

http://bit.ly/2gAMQ9O

15 Comments

  1. Dik Mickle

    I lived in NHA-1 off of 3rd St. from 1957-1960.I also attended Pearl Harbor Kai and was a Captain of the JPO’s also. We did our JPO drills on the lower parking lot. I use to hang out at the soda maching stop just outside the Main Gate to Pearl where the Marines would check your ID’s and when a Japanese Destroyer came in one day, the sailors bought me hot chocolates and took their pictures with the American kid. The administration building was the old 2 story wooden structure and I too had classes in the Rolled Tin Quonset’s. Great memories. We should talk. dikmickle@hotmail.com

    • Hi Dik,
      Great to hear from someone who remembers those Quonset Huts and that very old, two story administration building! I think you may have been a few years older than me…We moved from Navy Housing in 1959, and so my JPO days were at a different Elementary School. I remember that soda stop outside the gate, and yes, the Japanese Sailors. I had two ask me and another kid if they could take our pictures as they were walking down Center Drive. You may have been that kid! I have many great memories of living, as a child, in the Territory of Hawaii. My email address is Saul@BetterCallSaul.REALTOR.

    • Hey Dik, Where did you go from Honolulu? We moved to Norfolk.

  2. Louis Kern

    Great hearing about your growing up in Pearl Harbor. I was born in 1949 and my dad was a Seabee CDR stationed at Pearl (Office at Sub Base) and we lived on the base in a house facing the USS Arizona. We only were there from 1955-56 but I have great memories. May have been in school with you. Wish I could find photos of the house on the base.

    • Hi Louis, Thanks for the note. Those were special times. I hope you find tose pictures too! 🙂

    • Keep searching 🙂

  3. norman sheridan

    It was like reading my childhood all over again, We live in NHA 1 and Magrew Pt. Went to Pearl Harbor Elementary (JPO Sgt) and Pearl Harbor Intermediate !945-1955. What a wonderful place to grow up in

  4. Hi Norman. Thanks for the note. I agree, it was paradise!

  5. Georgetta Swear

    Loved your post. Lived in NHA3 in 57 and 58. Too young to remember the school I went to but one of my favorite memories was walking to open air theater in housing area. We stayed in Quonset Huts temporarily near sugar cane field until we got housing. So many happy memories.

    • I loved it Georgette. It was the time of my life!

  6. Thomas Hutton

    I was just watching a program “remembering Pearl Harbor, and just wondered if I could find my old neighborhoods from aerial photos of the housing we lived. I was born in Oakland and 10 months later we moved to the islands, there mom had two more kids so the three of us grew up in NHA 2 and 3. My memories of NHA 2 were not very adventurous, but when we moved to NHA 3 that’s where the life in HAWAII and being a Navy Brat was awaken in me. I lived at 735 15th street and attended Nimitz elementary,
    Me and and Samoan friends used to sneak onto the Hickam airfield and used to hide in the fox holes that peppered the perimeter of the airstrip, or we could walk all the way to what is now the expanded Honolulu International Airport, but back then a portion of the field was used as a mothball section for Hickam. I cannot count how many time the SPs chased me and on occasion caught me and I ended up in the O of D office. To this day I’m in my 70s now and will swear on a stack of bibles the greatest days of my life and fondest memories or of playing in those Fox hole’s climbing on an antiaircraft gun that was a memorial just before you entered our neighborhood. We lived in that house till we finally left for the mainland. The Barracks we as kids rummaged through and had fire extinguisher water fights..
    We had a raid sirens every month and blackouts, mom was a civil defense agent or what ever and had an arm band a helmet and military style flash king and would patrol the neighborhood on the black out nights, you didn’t wanna get caught not complying with the laws back then. I loved going to the base and I could sit at the piers for hours. I loved the smell of diesel trucks and buses, I loved the sailors and the crap they would talk and how they treated me just a kid that knew too much for his age and asked a lot of questions. I loved standing in line at the PX to buy candy and we also went to the open air theaters the one on our neighborhood and the one in mapalapa <spelling.
    We come to the Mainland on the SS Matsonia 5 nights 6 days at sea.
    Bummer I wasn’t a very good swab, I love the military and the Navy has always held a special place in mine and my brothers hearts. My dad ran our house like a boot camp. And talked to us like we were seaman, we just called it navy talk. When I hear or see a civilian disrespect our flag well I’ll just say it doesn’t go well for them. I could go on for hours but I have to stop. So with all the respect and love for all of who grew up in the shadow of the greatest generation our country produced Mahalo and Aloha God Bless you.

    • NORMAN SHERIDAN

      remember those days well, lived there from 44-55 NHA 1 and Magrew PT (sp). Lived in three different houses. We also kept the MP’s busy. Were great years. Went through there many times in later years as a MARINE and later retired. Great Memories for sure

      • Hi Norman…it was a great place to be a kid. I remember running from the MPs, being where I was not supposed to be 🙂

      • NORMAN SHERIDAN

        When back in 99 for Change of Command at FMF PAC, Camp Smith. Most of the housing of the 40’s to 90 was gone. My last house we lived in was vacant and area around Peral Harbor Elementary school was being torn down. Was kind weird going inside after almost 55 yrs.

  7. Mahalo Thomas. Great story of your dad and your youth. I remember being where we were not supposed to be, and running and hiding from the military police. I remember the open air theater at Makalapa. I loved to shop at the navy exchange. We left the Islands on a DC 6 in 1961. I was born in Aeia and when I was 2 we flew to the Mainland on a seaplane (Mars). We returned in 1956 on a troop transport, the USNS Morton…a five day transit. We were lucky kids for sure. I am with you. I am patriotic and not ashamed of it. I spent 10 years in the navy myself. Some of the best years of my life. Thanks again for writing. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.

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