excerpts from story by Bret Peterson
After working with the Civilian Conservation Corps, Amos Peterson enlisted in the Army Air Corps and attended boot camp at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. Upon completing boot camp, he had a short two week stay at Angel Island near Alcatraz. From there, he traveled to Oahu via the USS St. Mihiel, a ship used to transport horses to the battlefields during WWI. He arrived in Oahu in November of 1940 and was assigned to the Army Air Corps. He became part of the headquarters in the 18th Pursuit Group as a Corporal at Wheeler Field. In October of 1941 Amos received a severe ear injury when a .45 caliber handgun misfired very close to his ear. Amos spent a significant amount of time at the Schofield Hospital while doctors attempted to treat his ear injury. Late in November, Amos was scheduled to be transported back to California, where he would have surgery to repair his damaged ear. Unfortunately, his transport was delayed on several occasions. On that quiet Sunday morning of December 7th, 1941, just prior to the attack, Amos was standing outside of his barracks leaning on a pillar, enjoying a comic book. He recalled seeing planes fly through Kole Kole Pass. Shortly thereafter, he recalls seeing a plume of smoke at the end hangar a few blocks away. His first thoughts were, the Navy pilots were performing a military drill by blitzing the military base at Wheeler Field (on occasions the Navy pilots would drop bags of lime near the air field). Then the plane that caused the plume of smoke flew very low overhead, it banked sharply and double backed on its previous path. The plane was flying down the street heading directly at Amos. He saw what looked like puffs of air shooting out of the grass in front of him. He didn't realize what was causing the anomaly until a bullet struck the pillar he was leaning on. The bullet struck inches from his head. He instantly ran for cover as the Japanese Zero fighter plane continued up the street, strafing everything and everyone in its sites. Since none of the soldiers were armed, including Amos, his natural reaction was to seek cover. As he was scrambling for safety, Amos recalled seeing a fellow soldier running down the street. He said that soldier took a direct hit to the head, which effectively decapitated the running soldier. Amos shared, "It was like slow motion. I remember seeing that soldier running several more steps until he eventually collapsed onto the pavement. It was hard to see."
Then Amos briefly took refuge under a pool table in the recreational room of the building that he was standing in front of at the time of the attack. Fortunately, for some reason Amos abandoned the sanctuary of the pool table and ran towards the mess hall. Had Amos remained, he surely would have been severely injured or worse. Shortly after he fled his initial place of safety, the aircraft hangar across the street that stored millions of rounds of ammunition was hit by a Japanese bomb. The bomb triggered a catastrophic explosion. The explosion sent up a fireball of smoke and fire hundreds of feet into the air. In addition, it blew out windows and severely damaged adjacent buildings, including the front of the building where the pool table was located. Amos may have ran to the mess hall because it is the place that he knew best. That is were he worked as a Wheeler Field cook. Upon running into the building, he grabbed the heavy steel swinging doors to the entrance of the cafeteria. At the very moment he was about to pass through the doors, a bomb made a direct hit on the room opposite the door he was about to enter. When the percussion of the bomb hit the doors, they flung open and threw him like a rag doll up onto a stairwell. Before the percussion rendered Amos unconscious, he recalls the nearby explosion giving him the sensation of "being squeezed down to the size of a pop bottle." As he regained consciousness, he recalled seeing light and thinking "I'm alive!"
After the first wave of the attack, Amos and his fellow soldiers quickly evacuated the wounded soldiers to Schofield Barracks, located about a half mile away. Amos was lucky to be helping with the wounded soldiers at the Schofield Barracks when the second wave of the attack began. There was only about an hour gap between the first wave of attacks and the second. Schofield Barracks was not a major target, as a result, it only received machine gun strafing from the Japanese Zeros after they had dropped their bombs back at Wheeler Field. According to the historian on site at Wheeler Field, the Japanese had acquired precision intelligence of the high value targets at the base through spies. The top targets on the base were the hangars, the planes, and the pilots' quarters. The Japanese wanted to eliminate the pilots in the event they were unsuccessful in neutralizing the planes and the airstrips. They wanted to make sure that there were not any pilots able to fly any of the planes that may have been missed during the attack.
Shortly after the attack ended, all of the military personnel were armed as they were expecting a ground invasion to ensure. Amos was armed with a shotgun (riot gun) and a .45 caliber pistol. Before nightfall Amos was asked to help identify the 37 soldiers that had been killed during the attack. Amos said, "They lined up the dead soldiers at Schofield Barracks with a sheet covering them. One-by-one they pulled back the sheets to expose the faces of the dead soldiers." He recalled knowing 3 or 4 of the soldiers killed at Wheeler Field that day.
That same night, Amos was assigned guard duty to protect the military bases' fuel supply. He said the traumatic attack that occurred hours before had all of the soldiers on edge. They were convinced that a ground invasion was going to be launched on the island.