West Sider Remembers Day of Infamy ; University of Hawaii Freshman Helped Victims at Pearl Harbor

By Kersey, Lori | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), December 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

West Sider Remembers Day of Infamy ; University of Hawaii Freshman Helped Victims at Pearl Harbor


Kersey, Lori, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


Like practically every American who was alive at the time, Charleston resident Betty Kenna remembers where she was when Pearl Harbor came under attack. Unlike most, though, Kenna's story involves spending a night hiding in a tunnel and two weeks volunteering at a hospital treating burn victims.

Kenna, 88, was a freshman at the University of Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, when hundreds of warplanes from the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Navy base near Honolulu. Her father, U.S. Army Col. Walter C. Phillips, was chief of staff to Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, who commanded the Hawaii Department of the Army at the time.

Now 88 years old, Kenna - who graduated high school earlier than most - was 15 or 16 at the time. The night before the attack, she had been out on a date with an Army lieutenant, she remembers. She was at home in bed when the attack started shortly before 8 a.m.

When the bombs started falling, her father took off immediately - leaving her, her mother and her brother behind at their house.

"He said, 'Be prepared, an Army truck will come and get you. Bring a pillow and a blanket,'" Kenna said her father told them.

Just as he had said, a truck picked up the three of them and took them and other military families to a tunnel that was built to store fuel. The families stayed there three days and nights, hiding from any potential further attacks.

While they were there, Kenna said, two babies were born, and two older men died.

An Army truck brought them food: peanut butter, jelly and bread for sandwiches. Bottled water didn't exist, she said, so the families drank soda.

The second day after the attack, an official from an area hospital came to the tunnel asking for volunteers to treat the wounded.

Desperate for assistance, the hospital accepted help where it could get it, even from those without medical training, like Kenna. She spent the next two weeks helping treat burn victims.

There were lots of those, she said, because survivors of the initial Pearl Harbor attacks tried to swim through oil that burned as it floated on the water.

"I remember being nauseated," Kenna said, recalling seeing the burn victims with wounds that made their limbs swell to twice and three times their normal size. …

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