clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

HAWAIIAN TEMPLE SPARED FROM WAR'S BOMBING?

Wars are notorious breeding grounds for rumors and legends, so it's no surprise that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941) resulted in a bevy of sensational but unverified local stories.

Most of them concerned either the supposedly treasonous actions of Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii, or else a non-existent enemy invasion of the islands.Gwenfread Allen's book "Hawaii's War Years" (1952) contains a chapter debunking such "rampant rumors," of the time. Among the stories that Allen addresses are these falsities:

That Japanese people in Hawaii were warned about the raid via codes in Honolulu newspaper ads.

That directional arrows were cut in the cane fields by Japanese farm workers to guide attacking planes toward Pearl Harbor.

That paratroopers had landed.

That water supplies had been poisoned.

None of these rumors, nor most of the others that swept the islands, contained a shred of truth.

But one not discussed in Allen's book did become a genuine legend among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons.

According to the story, one of the Japanese pilots attempted to bomb the Mormons' Hawaiian Temple. But when he tried to release his bombs, they would not drop from their racks. However, when he flew on to his assigned military target, they fell without a hitch.

Supposedly, after the war the pilot learned what the building really was, and the apparent miracle so impressed him that he became a Mormon.

Whether or not a miracle really spared the sacred edifice, the story has reached mythological proportions among the Latter-day Saints.

Historian Kenneth W. Baldridge of Brigham Young University - Hawaii, sent me a copy of his detailed investigation of the tale.

There are two main sources that support the straying bomber story: One is a supposed eyewitness, and one is a former Mormon missionary who claimed to have met the pilot in Japan.

But Prof. Baldridge points out that standards of military strategy and discipline refute the idea of a straying pilot, and besides, he writes, "I've never talked to anybody who has met the man."

Mormon records do not include a Pearl Harbor pilot who became a church member, and the people who believe the story only know a friend of a friend of a supposed witness or participant.

No other civilian targets were bombed in the attack, and certainly the element of surprise would have been lost had a pilot chosen to strike something that lay 15 minutes away from the planned target.

The mission of the Japanese invaders was to destroy the United States Pacific Fleet, and it is unlikely that any of the dedicated Japanese pilots would have disobeyed orders and strayed so far from their primary target.

As a Mormon "faith-promoting story," there are different theories for why the building was spared.

The simplest attributes it to a mechanical failure. But the mechanism functioned perfectly when the plane was over the correct target.

Other stories mention a mysterious force-field that kept the plane from approaching the temple, a protective cloud that shrouded it from attack or a peculiar drowsiness that overcame the pilot when he tried to drop a bomb.

Prof. Baldridge wrote, "In the gamut of stories, no two seem to be alike. In checking out a possibility, I receive a new story instead of a confirmation of the one I am checking."

That must frustrate a historian, but it's a familiar experience for a folklorist.