CHAPTER 5

War Years

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES Captain Gilbert Tefft surveyed the boarding process from the left seat of DC-3 #9’s cockpit. This morning Tefft and copilot Steve Rosetta would transport a full load of passengers from Honolulu to Port Allen Airport. Most of the seats were filled now, and with any luck the flight would depart close to its scheduled time of eight a.m. Soon the captain would bring engines to life, taxi out and depart. After a quick turn the plane would head west above cane fields, the blue waters of Pearl Harbor passing off the right wing as the DC-3 climbed toward Kauai.

Bill Capp moved quietly around his Waikiki apartment this morning so as not to waken his wife. Capp’s position as a Civil Aeronautics Authority inspector allowed the couple to enjoy their comfortable apartment beside Honolulu’s Ala Wai Canal. This early morning departure had nothing to do with the job, though, no sneak inspection or anything like that. Today was Sunday and soon Bill Capp would rendezvous with friend Bill Holloway for a little surfing.
     Capp drove his Buick the short distance to the ocean and found a parking space on Kalakaua Avenue near the Royal Hawaiian. As he exited the car he noticed something unusual. Anti-aircraft shells were exploding above Pearl Harbor. Bill had towed targets for the coast auxiliary and knew they never practiced firing over land. He headed home, grabbed his rifle, then sped to the airport.
     He brought his car to a stop in front of the Hawaiian Airlines facility. As Bill exited the vehicle one of the company’s pilots yelled “Here comes one.”
     Capp didn’t know what the pilot was talking about but joined the man beside a telephone pole. Then he saw it, a Zero heading their way and strafing the area. At that moment the telephone pole seemed no wider than a matchstick to Capp as bullets tore up blacktop on both sides and bits of asphalt hit his legs. He pulled up his trousers after the plane passed to see if he was bleeding.
     As Bill Capp left the telephone pole he heard someone shout that another plane was coming, so he darted into a building to take refuge behind a large safe. A number of pilots already were hiding there and Capp landed right on top of them. The pilots welcomed his arrival with a far from complimentary greeting.
     After a few minutes passed without the sound of lowflying aircraft and gunfire, Bill ventured outside. DC-3 #9 stood right alongside the hangar. Captain Tefft and Copilot Rosetta had spotted Japanese fighters shooting up the field moments before the plane was to taxi out for departure. The airliner took quite a few hits, but passengers and crew had deplaned quickly enough so that no one was on board when bullets cut through the aluminum. One fighter plane had hit #9 with a cannon shell and started a fire inside the cockpit. Moments later another Japanese plane hit the airliner with bullets, but in a unique twist of fate one of the bullets knocked the top off a Kidde fire extinguisher behind the copilot’s seat and put out the fire. Now some would-be passengers from the DC-3 wandered around the grounds of Hawaiian Airlines. Just as Capp told them to get in their cars and leave the airport a number of bombs exploded beside nearby hangars. The passengers couldn’t have moved quicker to follow the inspector’s advice.
     Capp made a quick trip to nearby Andrews Flying Service and requested that all small planes be disabled through the removal of some critical parts. With this job done he returned to his car and left the airport for town. At one point a line of tracers cut across his windshield and he pulled off the road, drove through a small fence and hid behind a house. When he was sure no more planes were coming he again took to the road heading towards town. The car felt like its clutch was burning out, it just wasn’t going fast enough, but when Capp looked down the speedometer said 90 mph. He stopped for a traffic light at School Street and in his rearview mirror he saw a Packard go up in the air and turn over. Probably a shell from one of our ships, he figured. Small fires burned alongside the road on his way home.
     By this time Stan Kennedy, Capt. Elliot, and a variety of other Hawaiian Airlines people heard of the attack and reached the airport. ....

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