After 65 years, Pearl Harbor climb a little longer

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Posted: Tuesday, December 26, 2006


  Frank Kataiva has returned to Pearl Harbor every five years for the past 30 years. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Frank Kataiva has returned to Pearl Harbor every five years for the past 30 years.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

When he was a 20-year-old soldier in 1941, Frank Kataiva could run up and down the trail to his guard post on Diamond Head in Hawaii.

This year, for the 65th anniversary reunion of Pearl Harbor survivors, it took him about four hours to make the round trip to the 733-foot elevation and back.

“It took longer going down,” he said from his Mackey Lakes area home Dec. 18. “The stairs are all rounded off from all the tourists.”

Back when Kataiva was on guard duty, his orders were not to allow anyone on top of the famous point that overlooks Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu — not locals, not curious servicemen and women, and definitely not tourists.

Although the United States had not yet entered World War II, its Pacific Fleet of Navy warships was headquartered at Pearl Harbor. The harbor was not quite visible from Diamond Head, but the tall masts of the battleships docked there could be seen, Kataiva said.

Concrete bunkers built into the point served as the fire control position for the Hawaiian Seacoast Artillery Command to which Kataiva was assigned.

He and one other guard served rotating, eight-hour shifts under the supervision of a low-ranking noncommissioned officer.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Kataiva was finishing up his shift, having come on at midnight, and was waiting to be relieved.

Christmas was approaching, but Kataiva had no plans of being home in southern Illinois.

“Even if I had leave, I wouldn’t go back to Illinois,” he said. “It took 10 days each way going by ship and rail.”

Instead he would just stay on the island, making the daily climb to his rather mundane guard duty post — mundane that is until Japanese war planes attacked the U.S. Navy fleet.

“First they hit Kanehoe Naval Air Station; it was a PBY base,” said Kataiva of the Navy’s amphibious patrol aircraft that were the first victims of the attack.

“Then they hit Wheeler (Army Air Corps Base), next to Schofield Barracks. They also hit Hickam Field, right next to Pearl Harbor,” he said.

“We had a phone up on top, and from down below, they told us, ‘This is not a practice. The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor.’”

Kataiva’s orders were now to stay on Diamond Head and report everything he saw directly to the Navy commander.

“I saw planes coming in from Barber’s Point,” said Kataiva, referring to Japanese bombers that rounded the point on the opposite side of Honolulu from Diamond Head, on their way to Pearl Harbor.

He remained on his post the rest of the day, and about one hour after the initial attack, he and the other guard spotted two planes coming from the west.

In fact, fighters and level bombers were deployed in the second wave of Japan’s “Air Attack of Oahu.”

“Me and my buddy got off three shots from our Springfields,” he said of their Army issue .30-caliber bolt-action rifles.

Kataiva recalls not being scared at the time, having been placed on military readiness alert four times previously, but he remembers seeing the explosions (from Pearl Harbor) and hearing the booms.

Expecting an invasion following the air strike, American commanders instructed Kataiva and others to be on the lookout for parachutists that night, though none ever came.

Due to poor communications and a measure of nervousness, Kataiva remembers one incident that first night in which an American soldier nearly got shot by friendly fire.

To assure he wouldn’t be bitten by something crawling in the night, the soldier habitually shook out his bed sheet before retiring.

“The marines opened fired,” Kataiva said, most likely mistaking the sheet for a parachute.

He also remembers eight American patrol planes being shot down that night “when all of Pearl opened fire.”

After that night, Kataiva remained in Hawaii for the duration of the war, moving into radio and telephone electronics after teaching himself Morse Code.

As a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, he has traveled back for reunions on the 40th, 45th, 50th, 55th and 60th anniversaries, and this year for the 65th.

At 85, Frank’s uncertain of how many more reunions he’ll make, but he visited Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona memorial, as well as making the climb to his old guard post this year.

Because of all the years that have gone by, he said the climb did not bring back any memories of what’s come to be known as Pearl Harbor Day.

“Hawaiian Airlines paid for our (round-trip) tickets,” Kataiva said of the airfare this year for him and his wife of 57 years, Ruth.

He and his wife paid the fares for family members who accompanied them — daughter, Susan Lynch, her husband, Garry, their son, Levi, and his wife, Andrea; and daughter, Cathy Williams, her son, David, and his friend, Marie Thorn. Frank’s sister, Christina Moczydloski, also joined the group from her home in Tallahassee, Fla.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek

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