On 75th anniversary, Pearl Harbor attack vivid in Oak Harbor woman’s memory

It has been 75 years, but Pauline Williams remembers watching Japanese aircraft drop bombs and the machine gun fire that shattered an otherwise calm, sunny morning.

Though she was only 6 at the time, the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor remains vivid in William’s memory.

“One plane was headed straight for the house,” she recalled. “I could see a smile on his face, and for years I felt he was looking right at me.”

Williams, who lives in Oak Harbor, is one of 30 Whidbey Island residents who shared their memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor for a special book now on display at the PBY Naval Air Museum.

The nonprofit museum is located on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor.

The museum created a special exhibit to mark the 75th anniversary of the surprise attack, which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,300 Americans and led to the nation’s entry into World War II.

In addition to the book of memories, the exhibit includes a plaque with names of Washington state residents killed on the USS Arizona, according to Wil Shellenberger, president of the PBY Memorial Foundation.

Shellenberger stressed the importance of capturing all of these memories because nearly all the remaining service members who survived the attack have since died.

“They may have been too young to serve, but they have vivid memories of seeing planes come in over them while in their yard,” Shellenberger said.

“I was eating cereal and looking at the Sunday morning funny papers when our landlord banged on the door shouting that someone was attacking Pearl Harbor,” said Williams.

Williams said she ran outside and saw the bombs falling from Japanese Zeroes and heard the distinctive sound of the aircraft machine guns as the enemy fliers made strafing runs over the nearby highway.

As luck would have it, Williams’ father was out to sea at the time on a training exercise aboard the cruiser USS Minneapolis. That ship was supposed to have returned by Sunday morning, but had not done well on the training. The captain of that ship made the fateful decision to remain out an extra day.

The ship would have certainly been targeted, Williams said.

Williams later married into the Navy, which brought her to live on Whidbey Island.

The aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor changed Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as well as the community of Oak Harbor, Shellenberger said.

“The base was already being built, but Pearl Harbor really accelerated the growth of the base and the town,” he said.

It was World War II and the Navy that helped give Oak Harbor the diversity it has today, Shellenberger said.

“Oak Harbor has a small town sort of Norman Rockwell feel to it, but it’s still a melting pot like a big city,” he said.

The PBY Museum’s expanded exhibit was made possible through the contributions of the Heritage Flight Museum in Burlington and Island County Historical Society Museum in Coupeville, Shellenberger said.

The expanded display will run through the end of December and then rotated out for other exhibits, among them one focused on the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.

“We are kind of a living history museum, we want to continually change things up to keep folks coming back,” Shellenberger said.

n The PBY museum is located at 270 S.E. Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sundays