“I thought the whole world was on fire,” remembers Judy Weiher.
To a 4-year-old girl, that’s probably what it looked like at 8:00 in the morning on December 7, 1941, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The infamous attack on Pearl Harbor had begun—to the complete surprise of the United States Navy and Army. Just a few months earlier, Judy Weiher’s father had received orders to be stationed at the Army base on Oahu, known as Schofield Barracks. Weiher, now 72 and living on Wilmington Island, was just a toddler at the time, but the images she saw from her front row seat to history have remained with her for nearly seven decades.
Her first reaction to the bombs that morning, however, was not one of fear but of astonishment. The raid officially began at 7:53 a.m. with an attack by the first wave of Japanese “Zero” fighter planes. Weiher’s father, Ralph Mullis, a Signal Corps staff sergeant, ran out of their quarters in his underwear. As a child, Weiher was more concerned with her father’s appearance than the bombs exploding overhead. “I was absolutely appalled that he’d run outside in his underwear,” Weiher recalls thinking at the time. Moments later, her father rushed back inside, quickly got into his uniform and ran to the area known as the quadrangles to see what he could do.
The geography of that infamous harbor gave 4-year-old Weiher a perfect view of the attack. “As an adult, I can see why I felt the way I did,” she explains. “As you come down [from Schofield Barracks], you can see the entire harbor in front of you. … It just looked like the whole world was burning. There were kids crying and women were crying. It was very, very emotional.”
Sometime during the attack, the barracks where Weiher lived with her family were strafed. Weiher remembers none of that: Even today, what stands out in her mind is the fire that seemed to consume everything around her. “So I became a pyrophobic,” she admits. “My kids will tell you: To this day, when I go in someplace the first thing I know is how to get out.”
Like what you’re reading? Read the full article in the December/January 10 issue of South magazine.
Tags: Culture, history, People, women