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Pearl Harbor letter read publicly for the first time

86-year-old Oceanside woman shares a letter her mother wrote after surprise attack, December 7, 1941.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Eighty-one years ago today, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Oceanside where a woman who witnessed the attack is reading a letter her mother wrote about that terrible day publicly for the first time. Buried in a box in a closet for decades, Barbara Brown says it is time to share the words with the world.

Credit: Barbara Brown

"That's my mom and dad," said Barbara showing pictures from her childhood. In California in 1940, Barbara's parents announced their family would be taking a voyage. "This is our boat ticket to Hawaii for the family," said Barbara.  A year later on December 7, 1941, Barbara's life changed forever. "We had no idea at all," said Barbara. It was on a Sunday morning when Barbara looked up into the Honolulu sky and could only see enemy planes. "I was five years old," said Barbara.  

Credit: Barbara Brown

Her mother Esther wrote a letter following the attack that she never mailed. Barbara read the letter to us, "As I stood there watching the firing of the ships as the planes went over, something told me it was not a usual practice." Barbara's father George, a civilian Navy contractor, survived the surprise attack along with their good friend, a Navy Sailor named Russ. The letter states, "Russ had just left the car and immediately hit the dirt under a truck inside the base in order to avoid being strafed by a plane."  

Credit: Barbara Brown

Russ also survived but 2,403 Americans died. "Actual official word of the attack did not reach us until twelve noon when the President announced that we were under attack by the Japanese," Barbara read. The letter indicates days of chaos that followed. It didn't affect me, the only thing that bothered me was wearing the damn mask," said Barbara. She showed us a picture of her siblings and her wearing gas masks. "That's me, that's my older sister, that is my youngest brother and that is my older brother," said Barbara. "We had to wear them every day from the bombing on."

The US government eventually evacuated Barbara's family back to San Francisco. "You couldn't even tell your next-door neighbor you were leaving," said Barbara who never knew how stressed her mother was until reading the letter. Her mother wrote, "I don't believe it was until then that I began to feel the tension I had been under for the last few months."

At age 86, Barbara is fighting her own battle with lung cancer and wants to make sure this letter is never forgotten. "I want to pass it on and share it with people," said Barbara. "It feels good knowing that my mother wrote something that profound." Her mother ended the letter by writing, "Best wishes to all Esther Hill." 

Along with the losses of our service members, Barbara wants to honor the 68 civilians who were killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor as well.

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