Dec. 7, 1941 will always be remembered as a “Day of Infamy,” after the devastation of Pearl Harbor. However, some may not be aware of the events that occurred that fateful morning on the other side of the Koʻolau Mountains.
Ten months after being commissioned, US Naval Air Station – Kāneʻohe Bay was one of the first locations on Oʻahu to be attacked by Japanese forces.
Minutes prior to its attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Navy bombed NAS Kāneʻohe Bay.
The attack on Kāneʻohe was designed to disable the military’s long-range reconnaissance capabilities by knocking out the PBY Catalina seaplanes stationed there.
Navy Lieutenant Fusata Iida was the flight leader of carrier Soryu’s squadron of 12 Japanese dive-bombers who came off the seaward side of the peninsula during a 10-minute strike on the base.
Of the 36 PBY Catalina “flying boat” seaplanes, including those moored in Kāneʻohe Bay, 27 were destroyed and six others were damaged.
Only the three Catalinas that were out on patrol escaped attack. However, departing Japanese Zero aircraft attacked those three; one returned with 81 bullet holes in it.
The first Japanese aircraft destroyed in action during the December 7 attack were shot down at Kāneʻohe.
During the attack, Lt. Iida’s plane had been hit and was leaking fuel, when he apparently used it to make a suicide attack. (Before taking off, he had told his men that if his plane was badly damaged he would crash it into a “worthy enemy target.”)
He signaled that the rest of the planes should return to the ship and pointed to the ground, indicating that he would attempt to crash his plane into a suitable target.
Missing valuable targets, Iida’s plane crashed into the side of a hill on the base.
Navy Lt. John W. Finn, aviation chief ordnanceman, is credited for shooting down the Japanese Zero. During the attack, Finn left his quarters to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted in a parking ramp. While doing so, he sustained multiple wounds. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor.
A second wave of bomber planes came approximately 20 minutes later and dropped more bombs. One of the hangars (now Hangar 102) received a direct hit during this attack and exploded.
The second attack is credited for most of the casualties (due to bomb fragments.) The Kāneʻohe raid killed 18 U.S. sailors and one civilian; 65 were injured.
Iida was buried at the Heleloa burial area, near the mass burial site of the 18 Sailors. (The remains of each were later disinterred and returned to their respective homes in the US and Japan.)
A stone and cement marker with bronze plaque, located along Reed Road, marks the approximate crash site. The Iida marker may be the only marker on a US military installation dedicated to an enemy soldier.
Representatives of several Japanese organizations regularly gather to remember Iida with a solemn ceremony and to honor the 19 who died there.
Of the artifacts surviving from pilot’s crash site, a helmet believed to be Iida’s was returned to his relatives at a ceremony at MCB Hawaiʻi in 1999.
There were a total of nine Zero pilots and aircraft lost during the attacks on December 7, 1941.
Three pilots were lost during the first wave attack, Takashi Hirano, from the carrier Akagi along with Kaga-based pilots Seinoshin Sano and Toru Haneda, did not return.
Six Zero fighter pilots were lost in the second wave attack, including Lt. Fusata Iida, Shun-Ichi Atsumi and Saburo Ishii, all members of the same element from the carrier Soryu.
In addition, Shigenori Nishikaichi, from the carrier Hiryu, crash-landed and was killed on the island of Niʻihau. Ippei Goto, along with his companion from the carrier Kaga, Tomio Inenaga, went missing in action. Information and photos summarized here are primarily from Marine and other military sources.