December 7, 1941 was “a date which will live in infamy,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But, for a now retired lighthouse serviceman, it marked the beginning of a three-year active duty enlistment to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Ernest Enos was attending church in Honolulu on the morning of that infamous day. He recalls how a fellow co-worker came to get him and told him that they needed to get to work. “I remember saying ‘go to work but it’s Sunday,’” recalled Enos.
After arriving at the Lighthouse Service Building on Pier 4, Enos was assigned to extinguish the navigation light at the Ohua Light Station, which could be used by the attackers as a point of reference. Enos rushed into action and headed to the station that was located on the Army Air Corps Base. He had to drive across the runway to get to the light while the base was being bombed.
Once at the light station, he realized that he had forgotten the keys to the building, so he climbed the outside of the tower and he used his wrench to hammer at the light until it was extinguished.
According to Enos, bombs were dropping all around the place and black smoke filled the sky. “I remember being extremely scared, but I just focused and did my job,” said Enos.
With the light extinguished, he returned to Pier 4 where he was assigned to retrieve ammunition for the pier and the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, a 327-foot long high endurance cutter.
He remained on duty at the pier for the next 4 days.
This event not only altered the thinking and course of our nation, it changed the direction in life for this young man. Enos now 81-years old, said that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor he joined the Coast Guard because he didn’t want to be in the Army. He enlisted for active duty with the Coast Guard on March 2, 1942.
During his enlistment, Enos was assigned as the driver for the Coast Guard Commander in Hawaii but he was also loaned to the Navy to be a driver for Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, Commander for the 5th Amphibious Fleet.
It was during those times as Hill’s driver that Enos was able to display his great pride for his branch of service. The uniforms at the time were identical between the Coast Guard and the Navy except the Coast Guard uniform had, and still has, a small shield on the right sleeve. Enos was asked many times by other admiral’s drivers, “Why don’t you take that thing off if you are going to be driving a Navy Admiral around?” He replied that he was proud to wear the shield on his arm. “I was proud to be a Coastie,” he said.
Hill brought along Enos almost where ever he went. Two particular trips really stand out in Enos’s memory. First was his trip to Iwo Jima. It was on this small Pacific island that he was privileged to witness a ceremony that has been immortalized as a symbol of American strength, bravery and dedication; the flag raising by the Marines of 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines.
As Enos stood there at attention watching this solemn event, he remembered asking himself, “Why are we in a war? I had a hard time dealing with all of the death that took place (on Iwo Jima),” he said.
The second trip was to the signing of surrender of Japan on Sept. 2, 1945. He dropped off Hill on the pier where the USS Missouri was moored up in Tokyo. As Hill left the car for the ceremony he said to Enos, “Ernie, go and see what Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like after the bombing.”
So, while the formal signing of surrender was taking place, Enos and a couple of other drivers headed towards the signs of utter devastation. While driving through the ruins of these two cities, Enos experienced a conflict of emotions that ranged from being glad and that they got what was coming to them, to sorrow for the loss of life not only there but in Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor and all through the Pacific.
Two months later on Nov. 8, 1945 Ernest Enos was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard and returned to being a civilian working for the lighthouse service that was now part of the Coast Guard. He continued working as a civilian for the Coast Guard for more than thirty-four years and retired in 1972.
Looking back at it all now Enos said, “I’m definately proud that I was in the service.” He continued by stating, “Although I hope to never see another such incident (WWII). It was devastating for the world.”
This story appeared in the
February 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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