On Sunday morning, Nov. 30, 1941, U.S. Army Pvt. Paul Brown decided to slip out of his bed early at the Schofield Barracks Base Hospital, nestled among the Waianae Mountains on the island of Oahu, the third-largest in the Hawaiian chain, and head to the latrine.
Assigned to the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, he had been involved in an accident and was a patient at the hospital. Because of the severity of his injuries, he was confined to a wheelchair and wanted to clean up early to avoid being in the way of the other patients.
According to a 1997 newspaper column he wrote, Brown, who moved to Miami after the war, then to Englewood before settling in Arcadia in the 1970s, heard a “commotion” at the front desk and went to investigate. The daily newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser, had just been delivered, but they were ripping the front page off all of them before they were distributed.
When he inquired about it, he was told it was orders “from the top brass.”
Brown died in 2005. His wife, Betty, still lives in Arcadia.
Brown managed to obtain a copy of the paper from a medic with the front page intact. Along the top it read: “Japanese May Strike Over Weekend.” He quickly folded it and stuffed it into his pocket before anyone could notice. The next day, he mailed off the newspaper clipping to his parents, before Army censors had a chance to intercept it. Because many had not seen the front page, no one would believe his story.
Less than a week later, Brown was talking to a fellow patient. As they chatted, both of them noticed a double rainbow over Kolekole Pass, referred to as the “gateway to Schofield Barracks.” The person told Brown that it was a bad omen. He “just laughed it off,” he later wrote.
Fighter planes swoop from sky
The following morning, Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Brown again headed to the latrine early. He was now out of his wheelchair but still needed canes to walk around. It was a peaceful and serene day. The time was 7:55 a.m. He listened as he heard “the drone of a plane.” To him, it sounded like it was going to crash, so he rushed outside. Brown knew that Schofield Barracks was near Wheeler Field, so he looked in that direction.
To his horror, he watched a plane drop a bomb on one of the hangars and saw the “roof raise up several feet” then saw it quickly drop down.
Suddenly, fighter planes swooped out of the sky. Brown realized that they were Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros by the Japanese flag, referred to as the “Meatball” by the G.I.s, painted on its side. As they flew at extremely low altitude — so low eyewitnesses later said they could see the faces of the Japanese pilots — one set its sights on Brown.
The rounds from the plane’s 7.7-mm machine guns tore up the ground around him, spraying him with small pieces of concrete, but he miraculously missed getting hit. Years later, his wife, Betty, would remember him saying that “he could feel the heat from the bullets as they whizzed by him.”
For 110 minutes, the Japanese hammered away at Pearl Harbor, and then without warning they left. In their wake all that remained was incredible devastation.
Many of the vessels in Battleship Row were either sunk or heavily damaged, including the USS Arizona, which lost more than 1,100 men when she went under. Numerous fighter and bomber aircraft had been lost as well. But worst were the casualties. In all, nearly 2,400 were killed and 1,143 were wounded. Also, 68 civilians were killed and another 35 injured.
In the days that followed, Brown was assigned to go from bed to bed in the hospital to try to comfort the wounded. The sight of the terrible suffering left an indelible mark on him. He traveled to the dock area on Dec. 10 with a medic to pick up medical supplies and saw firsthand the wreckage caused by the Japanese bombers. It was something he would carry with him the rest of his life.
But what about the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser?
Through the years, Brown tried to tell people what he had read but to no avail. He finally gave up. Then in 1982, when he was going through his deceased mother’s valuables, he found the clipping in the letter he had mailed home that fateful November day more than 40 years earlier.
“His mother kept everything,” Betty Brown said. “She was a pack rat.”
Page hangs in Military Heritage Museum
Today, that same front page of the Honolulu Advertiser hangs in the Military Heritage Museum in Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. It is only one of two copies known to be in existence. The other is at the library in Honolulu.
The front page verified what Brown had been saying — it had predicted that an assault was imminent. The question is, did President Franklin Delano Roosevelt know it was coming? And did he know it would be at Pearl Harbor, or the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, or Midway?
Also in the museum is a copy of a message, dated Feb. 1, 1941, sent from Adm. Howard R. Stark, chief of Naval Operations, to Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander-in-chief, Pacific Fleet, which warned of an impending attack from Peru’s minister to Japan, Richardo Rivera-Schreiber, who then informed U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew.
The message reads in part that Japan planned on “using all of their strength and employing all of their equipment.”
It is certain that FDR needed some act of aggression by Japan to unite the country and get us involved in a war he knew was inevitable. Whether he knew it was specifically Pearl Harbor will be argued for years and we may never have a definitive answer.
As far as Brown was concerned, there was no doubt in his mind.
“Our government knew the war was coming and did nothing to stop it,” he wrote before he passed away. “The whole Pacific Fleet should have been on red alert.”
Conspiracy theories aside, the men and women who survived the Pearl Harbor attack performed bravely under adverse conditions as our ill-prepared nation was now plunged into a global war. One of those survivors on that day “which will live in infamy” was Army Pvt. Paul Brown who was proudly serving his country — and accidentally came across an important piece of history as well.