News Column

Pearl Harbor Reporter's Eyewitness Saga Runs 71 Years After Attack

Dec. 7, 2012

William Cole, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Seventy-one years ago today, when shock and horror came to Hawaii in the form of a Japanese aerial attack on Pearl Harbor, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin sent out reporter Elizabeth Peet McIntosh to cover the casualties and aftermath.

She was the "social editor," writing about society events and weddings for the women's section.

Editor Riley Allen wanted her to do something "from the women's point of view," McIntosh said.

He got more than he bargained for.

A week later the Punahou graduate wrote a gritty and detailed up-close account of the attack, of injured people overflowing the hallways at the Queen's hospital.

How she saw a dead little girl still holding the wooden handle of a jump rope that had been burned away.

How seven stores on King Street had caught fire, leaving scorched Christmas cards and a half-eaten chocolate sundae in the wreckage.

In that very different time, the eyewitness account never ran.

Editor Allen liked the story, McIntosh recalled, "but he was afraid it was going to excite the women, especially, and get people all excited and worried, and he didn't want that kind of story to go out and it wouldn't help people."

He wanted something a little more soothing.

Nearly 71 years after the attack, McIntosh, now 97 and living in Virginia, contacted the Washington Post, which published her story Thursday for the first time.

McIntosh said by phone that she wrote the story reflecting how she felt at the time: "frightened and wondering how I was going to live and whether we were all going to be killed or wounded."

"You didn't know what was going to happen the next day," she said. "I just felt (newspaper readers) should know what happened and what would likely be going on for a long time, instead of just trying to hide someplace. I thought the truth was better than to not say anything."

The skills she developed writing more colorful stories for the features section of the paper resulted in searing snapshotlike details of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack in her report.

The wounded were brought to Queen's by ambulance, in military vehicles and by hand, she recalls.

"It was pretty awful because there were dead bodies there and wounded people coming in and kind of complete disorder," McIntosh said. "It was frightening as well as just being horrible to watch some of the things -- the people they were bringing in. Not like a hospital at all."

McIntosh said it was hard to go on from there.

"It made me want to just turn around and run someplace, (but) I didn't know where to go -- that sort of feeling," she said. "What can you do? It was so horrible."

Her reporter's instincts and drive kept her going, she said.

She lived out by Koko Head and took about a half-dozen people home with her from the newspaper because they didn't want to stay at their own homes near the downtown area.

McIntosh said she came to Honolulu in the 1920s when her father, William Peet, took a job as sports editor at The Honolulu Advertiser.

She worked at both the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin, which have since become the single Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

McIntosh went on to work for the Office of Strategic Services in India and China, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, disseminating propaganda intended to demoralize the enemy.

The book author, who lives in a Virginia retirement community, recently was thinking about Pearl Harbor and contacted the Washington Post to see whether the newspaper was interested in running her eyewitness account of the aftermath for the first time.

She admits she was disappointed with Allen's decision to not use her story 71 years ago.

"But also I honored him as an editor and what his thinking was, and I like him as a person, too, so I just went on doing other things," she said.

Source: (c)2012 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Distributed by MCT Information Services

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