An Unplanned Contingency
Wheeler Field, Hawaii, October 19th, 1941
It was a fairly comfortable military meeting, one between three senior officers with a shared concern, no one of whom could give direct orders to either of the other two. The host, in whose office they were meeting, was Colonel Flood, the commandant of Wheeler Field. Across his desk was Brigadier General Davidson, commander of the 14th Pursuit Wing, which comprised all the aircraft based on the field. While this relationship had the potential for discord, the two men were friends, and were in the habit of settling all outstanding problems without difficulty. The third member of the group, the visitor from "outside," was Colonel Jimmy Mollison, chief of staff to the commandant of the Hawaiian Air Force, Major General Martin. Their concern at this moment, as so often, hinged on the relative autonomy of the air force from the ground forces, an autonomy that was perceived in quite different ways by the different services.
General Short, commanding all army forces on Hawaii, including the air force, was getting increasingly agitated over the possibility of sabotage. There were thousands of Japanese aliens on the island of Oahu, and thousands more Japanese who had become American citizens. General Short believed that some or all of these people would try to sabotage military installations, either on or before the outbreak of war.
The most vulnerable and valuable targets were parked aircraft. That very morning, Short's chief of staff, Colonel Phillips, had arrived with an order that all their fighters were to be parked wingtip to wingtip and surrounded with barbed wire and sentries. As an added precaution against arson, their fuel tanks were to be drained and their ammunition removed and stored in a hangar some distance away.
Neither Colonel Flood nor General Davidson had any way of assessing the threat of sabotage, but both were upset at the manner in which the order had been given. Flood, a stiff- backed ex-infantryman himself, had brought with him to the air force the idea that a senior commander should either allow subordinates to run their own commands or get rid of them. He personally resented what he took to be unwarranted high-handedness, and cared little who knew it.
Davidson had a more easy-going temperament. He had started out as a flier, and one sensed that, having become too old and senior to be a fighter pilot, he felt that he had moved into a sphere where things mattered less. Even so, he took alarm at this new incursion of the army into air force business.
Both Flood and Davidson were provincial in the sense of having almost no civilian connections. Moreover, both had been relatively isolated at the air base. Colonel Mollison, by virtue of both his position and his personality, got around more, met more people, and had more sources of information. One of these sources was Colonel Bicknell. Like Bicknell, Mollison was unusually cosmopolitan for a military officer, and, again like Bicknell, he actually knew some Japanese-Americans. On one occasion, he had gone with Bicknell to a cocktail party at the Japanese consulate. Mollison now spoke to the issue.
"I don't have the impression that these folks are about to march on Wheeler and Hickam Fields. The German-Americans didn't side with Germany in the last war. The fact is, these people wouldn't be here if they hadn't already decided to change allegiances. Even the aliens are here because they hope to become American citizens. Everyone knows war is coming, and the ones who side with Japan have mostly gone back."
Colonel Flood broke in,
"There must be some spies among them who intend to stay. It doesn't take many people to set fire to parked aircraft."
"Sure. It's obvious that we should guard them carefully. But we can do that without herding them together in the middle of the field."
General Davidson added,
"It makes me mighty nervous to think of all my ships crammed together without even any ammunition. It'd take us hours to get them into the air. And they're supposed to be our first line of defense. I don't expect the Japs to hit us with a surprise air attack, but I hate to think what would happen if they did."
In the discussion that followed, the points of view of the three men were determined by their positions. Colonel Flood was the most concerned about sabotage. He would be to blame if saboteurs did destroy any aircraft. General Davidson, on the other hand, would have at least implied responsibility if his fighters were destroyed on the ground by an enemy air attack. Colonel Mollison's responsibility was to apply established air force doctrine to the case in point. In this case, that application was quite clear-cut.
All during the twenties and thirties, innumerable experiments had been carried out in which fighters and bombers attacked obsolete aircraft lined up or dispersed on the ground. The conclusion was that it was extremely easy to destroy parked aircraft with bombs and/or machine gun fire. In a short time, virtually all the grounded aircraft would be reduced to fiery wreckage, and there were many photographs to prove it.
The only effective defense was to disperse the aircraft widely, with each surrounded on three sides by earthen or concrete walls as high as the aircraft. Such revetments existed on Wheeler Field, and Mollison thought they should be used. He pointed out,
"In our exercises the aircraft were never parked so close that they'd set fire to each other. Under this scheme, one hit might destroy the whole force. For that matter, a saboteur could do it with a small mortar set up outside the perimeter."
Even Colonel Flood agreed.
"If the army thinks there's such a danger of sabotage, they ought to give us enough infantry to guard the perimeter of the whole field and allow us to put our ships in their dispersal areas."
"There you come up against General Short's other obsession. He expects to be fighting the Japs on the beaches, and he won't spare a single soldier from beach defense training."
General Davidson had been fiddling with his pipe, and finally had it lit. He now spoke.
"All this puzzles me. I've talked with General Short, and he doesn't seem like a fanatic. I don't even think he works very hard. He's certainly not an eager beaver. He seems to enjoy talking with all kinds of people, and he's always engaging in public relations."
Colonel Flood nodded emphatically.
"Whenever he comes here, he doesn't inquire into anything. He wants to meet the pilots and chat with them. His idea of command seems to be to meet everyone once a month and swap lies with them."
Colonel Mollison, whose physical attitude of relaxation contrasted with Flood's upright posture, chose his words carefully.
"I think it's really a staff problem. General Short is a nice man who nonetheless believes deeply in certain principles. He's an infantryman through and through, and he doesn't much understand anything else. He gives directives, sometimes rather vague ones. If they cause pain, dislocation, and confusion, he doesn't want to know about it. On a personal level, he just wants to be friendly, and leave the unpleasantness to his chief of staff, Phillips."
Davidson broke in,
"He certainly picked the right man for his chief of staff, then."
Flood laughed bitterly, but Mollison replied,
"No general, I'm afraid he didn't choose the right man. In that position, a good staff officer should insist on making it clear to the general that his policies are creating discord, and that they aren't working. He should make the general realize that every order moving down the chain of command creates reports moving back up.
If the commander refuses to look at the reports, he must listen to the digests of them that his chief of staff gives him. I'm not even sure Colonel Phillips is capable of giving a summary of a large number of reports or representing the point of view of someone other than his commander."
"He thinks only about enforcing every one of Short's orders to the letter, as inflexibly and rudely as possible. You can't reason with him at all. He just gets loud and obnoxious. I refused to disarm our fighters and push them all together until I get orders from General Martin."
Flood looked at Mollison with meaning. Phillips should have first taken the order to the commander of the air force, General Martin. He and his chief of staff, Mollison, should then have had an opportunity to discuss it with Phillips, and perhaps Short, before relaying it to Wheeler and Hickam Fields. Instead, Phillips had sent a message that had hardly reached Martin and Mollison before he had gone to the airfields in person and thrown his weight around.
Mollison now spoke,
"I'm not sure there's much we can do to get that order rescinded. I've got an appointment with Phillips, but it never does any good. He isn't capable of understanding most problems, and he gets angry if I want to talk with General Short. Then, if I do get to the general, he just sends me back to Phillips."
There was a moment of silence which was broken by Davidson.
"With all due respect, Jimmy, I think General Martin would do a better job of protecting us from this interference if he were in better health."
Mollison quickly sprang to the defense of his ailing chief. He ended by making a suggestion.
"Of course, if you feel that this measure will effectively cripple the air defense of the Hawaiian Islands, you can make a statement to that effect and send it to us. We'll forward it to General Short, and he won't be able to ignore it. You're in command of the only force that might be able to stop an enemy air attack."
All three men realized that such a statement, while perfectly legal, could effectively end the career of the man who made it. General Davidson said nothing, and Colonel Flood changed the subject.
"Before I forget, Jimmy, there's another matter we wanted to take up, a personnel question. It concerns a pilot named Stuhlenkamp who's eligible for promotion to captain."
Flood here nodded to General Davidson, who, taken off the hook, explained the case. He concluded,
"He's not a good enough flyer to fill the vacancy we have for a squadron command. But in every other respect he's a good officer and deserves promotion. I first thought of handing him over to Charlie, here, with the idea of making him a ground controller. But, then, we thought you might want him for General Martin's staff."
Mollison looked a little surprised and replied,
"I could use an assistant G-3, but I've never met the man."
Flood spoke quickly,
"He's very bright, easily the smartest of the pilots. I can certainly use him if you don't want him."
He then looked back at Davidson, who continued,
"There's a little something else. This kid gets around a lot socially and knows a lot of senior army and navy officers. He's practically engaged to the daughter of the chief of staff of the naval district. It struck me that part of our problem is that half of us aren't even on speaking terms with the rest of the army. So, when we do get someone who's personable and makes friends, we might as well put him where he might do some good."
"Are you hoping that he'll get Phillips drunk at a party and convince him of a few facts of life?"
He then continued in a more serious vein.
"I'll think about it. There's no great hurry is there?"
"No. A month or two won't make any difference. In the meantime, we might arrange for you to meet Stuhlenkamp informally."
The meeting broke up with arrangements for a cocktail party at which
Stuhlenkamp and some other junior officers would be present.
Stanhope was gesturing with her hands as she said,
"I'm so glad my husband isn't here. He thinks this sort of thing is just awful."
As if to make sure that none besides herself and Colonel Bicknell were present, Stanhope cast a suspicious eye on the drapes. She seemed almost ready to rise and check that no one was behind them. Her companion, far from acting the part of a co-conspirator, seemed amused. When he spoke, however, he kept his levity to a bare minimum, evidently in deference to Mrs. Westmacott.
"It is rather unusual. On the other hand, none of us are really sentimentalists, are we? Your husband least of all."
"No. And I keep telling him that all this would have been perfectly ordinary and conventional a hundred years ago."
"It might well have been put in a written contract. Did Erich reveal his assets?"
"Yes, quite honestly I think. He's a sort of orphan, and he and his younger brother were mostly brought up by some wealthy cousins who have no children. Wealthy seems to be an understatement, in fact. I know of the wife's family in Philadelphia, and the husband seems to have brought considerable loot from Germany right after the war."
"Not many Germans were in a position to do that."
"No, but the story sounds true to me. Erich is sure that they'll leave him a large sum, but the woman is only fourteen years older than he is. We women have a way of outliving our juniors."
"The husband might not leave everything to his wife. A rich man might well leave something very considerable to a young cousin under those circumstances."
"If he isn't obsessed about keeping a fortune intact without dividing it. Anyway, he's only twenty four years older than Erich."
"Isn't money wonderful? See how quickly we begin to sound like ghouls."
Stanhope laughed, but continued,
"So Erich regards his financial position as unsatisfactory. He wanted to know how much we had, and whether it would all come to Joan. I told him without being coy, and named numbers. He seemed very pleased."
"I don't see anything wrong in that. We all care about money. Why pretend otherwise? The only odd thing is that a front- line fighter pilot at the beginning of a war should make plans at all. The odds of survival aren't good."
Stanhope showed sudden alarm.
"But I thought you said he was going to be shifted to the ground?"
"He is, but he doesn't know that yet."
Stanhope bit her lip.
"I'm sorry, I do hope I haven't let anything out of the bag. Last week he was so depressed and fearful that I couldn't resist dropping a hint."
"Did he pick it up?"
"Yes. I'm sure he did. Will that cause trouble?"
"No, I don't think so. He'll be discreet. That must explain why he seemed so happy when I last saw him. He has too much honor to take himself out of combat, but he's delighted to be reassigned without an option. I suppose any sane man would be."
Suddenly, Stanhope sat bolt upright.
"I say, you don't suppose he thinks we arranged that as a reward for marrying Joan, do you? That would be awful!"
"No. If he were a good pilot, nothing any of us could do would get him grounded. It's as simple as that."
"I don't know. Erich greatly exaggerates the importance of influence. But I won't say anything else. I've done enough harm already."
"I'm not worried about that, but I do wonder how this whole business will affect Joan. It might sound to her as if you've bought her a husband."
"She hasn't heard any of this, of course. Erich may later tell her that I volunteered information about finances. The fact is, she wants a husband in general and Erich in particular. I've tried to bring it off, and Joan knows me well enough to more or less guess what I've done."
"Yes. She also badly underestimates herself. In fact, Erich may care a lot about her, quite apart from money. I've seen him look at her with something like lust. I think he'll stay with her, and he may be more faithful than my wife thinks.
"You know, I think so too. I'm glad to hear you say it."
"It might be worth your while to take Joan into the full picture. I find that, in military intelligence, uninformed people tend to imagine that things are much worse than they are. I'm always bringing what turns out to be good news."
Stanhope wiggled one of her feet and looked down at it as she replied,
"So, by the same principle, Joan may imagine that Erich and I have been even more crass than we were."
"Yes. I'd like to see her get married with a sense of fun, not with that little reserved look she so often has."
"George, I believe you'd be interested in Joan if you didn't already have a lovely wife."
Colonel Bicknell laughed in a self-deprecating way and replied,
"I guess everyone wants to be your son-in-law, Stanhope. That, incidentally,
is probably more important to Erich than the money."
The night was even more horrifying than the morning had been. The Japanese attack had been concentrated down at the harbor, almost a mile away. But, now, there were shots everywhere. Stanhope had been assured that there was no Japanese invasion, but she seemed to be the only one who knew it.
Excited sentries and terrified householders were shooting at anything that moved. A short time before, Stanhope had noticed a bright light in the sky, and, running to the window, had seen the searchlight on top of the hill sending its beam randomly back and forth. Even she knew that it was useless to do so.
Then, a moment later, she heard shells screaming over the roof. Running to a window on the opposite side of the house, she saw flashes of light from the anti-aircraft batteries by the harbor. They had opened up on the searchlight. Stanhope called to Joan, and both went into the basement until the gunfire ended a few minutes later. Joan had pointed out,
"It's one thing to be caught unprepared by a surprise attack in peacetime. It's another to go into a panic and begin shooting at each other."
As the women returned to the living room, they discussed the absent men. It was agreed that neither was in danger. Captain Westmacott was to remain at the District HQ all night. Erich, now Joan's fiance, had managed to get back to Wheeler Field shortly after the attack. But there was nothing left for him to fly, and he would be engaged simply in clearing away debris.
Stanhope again recounted her experiences of the morning. She, alone, had been up, and had been standing on the front lawn with their next door neighbor. That neighbor happened to be Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. When they first saw the planes, they had naturally assumed them to be part of an AAF training exercise. The admiral seemed irritated, and said that he should have been told about it.
He was about to shrug it off when some of the planes came so close that they could actually see the heads of the pilots. On the wings and fuselages was the rising sun emblem of Japan. Even then, neither she nor the admiral had realized that it was an attack.
"It sounds crazy, now, but I actually thought it was a friendship visit. Japanese warships have called here often enough, and I remember thinking, "Now the airplanes are visiting too." I don't know what the admiral was thinking, but he didn't say anything. I was watching the planes move toward the harbor, and was about to ask what it all meant when there were explosions on Ford Island. Then, while we both watched, a battleship literally bounced up part-way out of the water. Then, when it went down again, it was much lower than when it started.
It seemed that it couldn't be serious because there was no sound. That got to us a moment later. Then the same thing happened to other battleships. They were jumping around like toys in the hands of a rough child. It was only later that I realized that men were being killed inside as I watched. Finally, I looked at the admiral. He was motionless, and his face was just as white as his uniform."
Joan had heard the same account, almost verbatim, earlier in the day, but it was a day for repetition. Not many women in history, she reflected, could have shared with her mother the dubious privilege of standing beside an admiral while he watched his fleet being destroyed. Joan was sure that Stanhope had said the right thing.
Joan herself had been wakened by the explosions. She had gone down the hall to rouse Erich in the guest room, and, by the time she got out front in her nightgown, Admiral Kimmel was just disappearing. Her father then rushed past, half- dressed, and jumped into his car. She later found out that he had gotten an early call about a submarine contact outside the harbor, and had then gone back to bed.
Looking at the vast columns of black smoke pouring up from the harbor, Joan had asked her mother,
"Daddy won't be blamed for any of this will he?"
"I doubt it. Not in any direct way. I'm afraid that it's poor Admiral Kimmel who's going to be blamed."
"Erich's getting set to rush up to the field. I wish he weren't still on flying duty."
"I understand his appointment to Colonel Mollison's staff is already in the works. Besides, I just heard that Wheeler Field has been attacked too."
Stanhope then gestured at the harbor and said,
"If it's like that, there won't be anything left to fly anyway."
"You don't suppose, in all the confusion, they'll forget to transfer him, do you?"
"If they do, we'll find a way to remind them."
The room was arranged just as it usually was at tea time, and Stanhope and Joan were in their appointed places. Colonel Bicknell had stopped in, and had been provided with a cup. The battleships were resting on the harbor bottom, some upside down, but one could see them only by stepping out on the front lawn. The sombre atmosphere in the room was occasioned by the message, received that morning, that Erich Stuhlenkamp was dead.
To Joan, and even her mother, the shock was greater than that occasioned by the attack. To them, but not to Captain Westmacott, it was also a much more serious matter than whose career had been adversely affected by Sunday's debacle.
The first report, a telephone call that morning to Stanhope from an officer at Wheeler Field, had said that Erich had been killed in aerial combat. But Joan had worked it out that he couldn't have gotten to the field in time to enter combat.
Stanhope had called back to confirm the report, and had talked with Colonel Flood's second in command. Erich had, indeed, been killed. It wasn't in the air, but by a shooting accident on the ground in the early hours of the morning. The details were extremely vague. Stanhope, knowing that the officer must have a great deal to do, hadn't pressed him. That had been about ten in the morning.
Joan had preserved a surface calm. So far as Stanhope knew, she hadn't even cried. But neither of them were satisfied. Anyone could easily have been killed by a wild shot from a sentry on the night of the 7th. But there had been none of that the next day, and Erich, by the last account, had died early on the ninth, that very day.
The Japanese were long gone by then, and no one could have been killed in aerial combat. How could anyone have thought so? The second officer had spoken as if they had his body there, and had asked for instructions about burial.
By good fortune, Colonel Bicknell had been at Wheeler Field that morning, and he had just now arrived to find Joan and Stanhope at home. Having confirmed that Erich was dead, he gave them both his condolences. He then seemed reluctant to say anything more. But, of course, the topic was unavoidable. He went on,
"I'm afraid I have some more bad news. It was a suicide. Colonel Flood asked me to investigate, and I signed a report to him to that effect."
Joan started laughing in a peculiar way. While there was obviously an element of hysteria, there was also genuine mirth. She said,
"Now everyone will say that Erich killed himself so that he wouldn't have to marry me."
Both the colonel and Stanhope moved to Joan as she now burst into tears. Stanhope looked fairly cool and composed, and the colonel asked her,
"You knew, didn't you?"
"Yes. When people are evasive about the circumstances of a death, that's what it always is."
Colonel Bicknell nodded and said nothing further until Joan had somewhat recovered herself. He then said,
"It's going to be listed as an accidental death. Colonel Flood and I had a talk. It seemed to both of us that, with morale already at a low point, this sort of incident could only depress it further. So we tore up my original report and substituted another one. I was considering not telling you. But, the way the grapevine operates around here, I knew you'd find out anyway. On the other hand, we certainly want to keep it out of the papers. With the powers of censorship we have here, there won't be a word."
"I suppose his transfer hadn't come through, had it?"
"No, but it was coming, and he would have had it in a few days."
"I should never have mentioned the possibility to him last month. He must have been waiting for it ever since. He probably thought that the war eliminated his chance for a ground job. He may have thought that I double-crossed him."
Joan looked accusingly toward her mother, But Colonel Bicknell said to Stanhope,
"I remember your telling me that Erich's father was a suicide. That tends to run in families. The father, in effect, shows the son a way of reacting to overwhelming problems."
"Did Erich leave a note?"
Joan looked anxiously at the colonel. He replied,
"Yes. Colonel Flood has it. It's addressed to him and General Davidson. It's very short. Erich says that he realizes he'd be a liability in combat, and that he's taking himself out before it begins."
Joan replied in a clear sharp voice.
"That's nonsense. It was just that he couldn't stand waiting to see
whether he'd be killed."