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Lighthouse Keepers React to Attack on Pearl Harbor

Seventy-five years ago today Americans were stunned at the news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Most lighthouse keepers shared the news in their logbooks and noted the immediate effects of this event at their station.

At Makapuu Point Lighthouse, located not far from Honolulu on the island of Oahu, the lighthouse log entry for December 8, 1941, begins “War against Japan was declared by President Roosevelt after Japan attacked without warning Naval & Army bases on Oahu. Watches have been rearranged effective today on a basis of 4 hours on and 8 hours off without liberty. . . .” 

On December 9, 1941, at Alcatraz Light Station in San Francisco Bay, the keeper notes “The first official Air Raid Warning for S.F. [San Francisco] and the U.S.A.”

On the December 8, 1941, the Keeper at Cape Arago Light Station on the Oregon coast does not note the attack but does report that he “put the radiobeacon out of commission at 2146 and total black [out] at 2300 per orders received.” 
Soon after December 7, 1941, the U.S. Coast Guard would become part of the U.S. Navy. The lighthouse personnel became part of the War effort as the military set up defense and communications at many of the stations. At key stations the number of station personnel would increase substantially to cover additional duties such as beach patrol, plane lookouts, radar, radio communications, etc. Some coastal lighthouses were extinguished or dimmed and many lightships were taken off their stations to avoid sinking by enemy submarines. All coastal keepers were drilled in blackout measures should the need arise.

Note the WWII lookout tower placed above the lantern at Plum Island Lighthouse, on Long Island Sound, New York. National Archives photo from RG 26 Entry 281.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, Historian, U.S. Lighthouse Society, December 7, 2016

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9 thoughts on “Lighthouse Keepers React to Attack on Pearl Harbor

    1. By WWII, there were other forms of navigation being used besides lighthouses. Radio Navigation, also known as the “flying beam” was an important advancement during this time: Before the war, radio navigation could only provide a course or a bearing to a station. The invention of timekeeping technologies, such as the crystal oscillator, led to a new era of systems that could fix position accurately and were easier to use. Each system of radio navigation uses time in a slightly different way and each requires its own type of navigational charting.
      By World War II, a web of air navigation radio stations and beacons connected by “airways” began to cover the globe. When war broke out, new military equipment revolutionized air navigation. This allowed less experienced users to achieve the same results as highly trained celestial navigators and eventually decreased the need for professional navigators.

    1. This story was posted by the late Candace Clifford, who was the historian for the USLHS at the time. I believe the citation would be, “Record Group 26: Records of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1785-2005. Series: Logbooks of Lighthouses, 1872-1944.”

      1. Thanks for the response. NARA A1 (Downtown D.C.) claims to only have the Makapu’u logbooks for 1942 and they say there are no logbooks for Makapu’u at NARA A2 (College Park). This blog indicates the logs for 1941 were located somewhere. I would like to locate the Makapu’u logs for the rest of the war and finding the source for the 1941 logs might be helpful in that. Any further help by the current historian would be appreciated. Thanks!

  1. Hi Anthony – This is Jeremy D’Entremont, current historian for the USLHS. I can tell you that nobody knew NARA’s lighthouse holdings like Candace did.

    Tom Tag of the USLHS suggests: “The Lighthouse Station Logs go from 1872-1947 and can be found mostly under Record Group 26 Entry 80 (NC-31) they are arranged alphabetically by station name and then by year. They are housed in banker’s boxes with several years per box. It is often found that they are not in their correct boxes and thus all boxes for that station should be searched. Remember that Hawaii was a territory in 1941 and that may cause the boxes to have to be located through the territory heading (I don’t know). Note also that the books for the years 1942 and up are stored in a slightly different way under Entry 159 (NC-31) – the NARA should know. There are also Unit War Diaries for 1942 to 1945 under Entry 186 (A-1) that may have some information. The best bet is to go to the Archives Main Location and request a pull for all years for Makapu’u Point.”

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