'Pearl Harbor' Man OK With Decision
By BRUCE DUNFORD
Associated Press Writer
[Reproduced without permission]
HONOLULU (AP) — A pilot friend told Kermit Tyler that when local radio station KGMB broadcast uninterrupted Hawaiian music, it meant U.S. B-17 bombers were flying in from the mainland, homing in on the signal to reach their base on the island.
The station played the music in the early hours of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.
And that, insists Tyler, is why he didn't sound an alarm when an operator on Oahu's North Shore told him at 7:15 a.m. that there was a huge blip on the scope of the newly installed, relatively primitive radar.
There was a squadron of U.S. aircraft heading for the island.
But the huge radar blip was the first wave of the 350 Japanese dive-bombers, torpedo planes and fighters that bombed Pearl Harbor and threw the United States into World War II.
Tyler, who was then an Army Air Force first lieutenant on duty in the Fighter Control Center at Fort Shafter on Oahu's South Shore, was told by the radar operator that the blip was 137 miles out and coming in from the north.
"I told him don't worry about it, it's probably the B-17s coming in," Tyler, now 86, said from his San Diego home.
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other military bases began at 7:55 a.m. and lasted two hours. The planes sank or heavily damaged 21 ships, destroyed or damaged 323 aircraft, killed 2,388 military personnel and civilians and wounded 1,178.
In the midst of the chaos, the squadron of B-17 Flying Fortresses homing in on the Hawaiian music were able to land, but took on friendly fire.
Tyler's role was investigated in 1944 by a congressional committee that ultimately pinned much of the blame on the top Army and Navy commanders in Hawaii.
To this day, Tyler believes his inaction gets too much attention.
"It's very doubtful if it really made that much difference," he said, noting that the United States was at peace, U.S. planes were not ready to take off to intercept the Japanese and he was called just 40 minutes before the attack began.
But Tyler, who later flew 30 combat missions in the Pacific and retired from the Air Force in 1961 after 18 years as a lieutenant colonel, believes his role in the attack cost him further advancement.
"I think he acted appropriately and he can hold his head up proudly," said Robert Kinzler, president of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association chapter. During the attack, he was an Army private stationed at Schofield Barracks.
Kinzler disagrees with Tyler on one point, saying a 40-minute warning would have been enough time to get ammunition for anti-aircraft guns and to get some fighters airborne.
Tyler participated in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the attack in 1991 and will be the guest speaker Tuesday at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center to mark the 58th anniversary.
He tells people who ask him that the fighter control center at Fort Shafter was still being set up, and that key Navy, Marine and civilian personnel who would know schedules of incoming planes had not yet been assigned.
And it was only his second duty watch at the center and he was given no instructions on what to do if a radar station called in anything unusual.
"If I had been alarmed, I would have called Maj. (Kenneth) Berquist, who was home in bed, and he would have decided if it was B-17s or someone else," Tyler said.
"The main problem was that those in Washington just didn't tell our commanders what they knew" about the Japanese threat, Tyler said.
Tyler said the Navy should have sounded a general alarm at 6:40 a.m. when the destroyer USS Ward engaged, and later sank, a Japanese mini-submarine headed for Pearl Harbor.
"That was a pretty big clue."
Given the same circumstances he faced, Tyler asks: "What would you have done?"