Remembering Pearl Harbor

During World War II, sister waited for daily mail


Irene Orth was 15 when her oldest brother, Ahman "Bud" Karr, was sent to Hawaii with the Army in August 1941.

Her second oldest brother, Bill, was stationed with the Army in Europe.


Irene Orth

With two family members at war, Orth said, "My clearest memory of that time is waiting for the mail.

"And we had a two-star banner hanging in our window, showing we had two of our family serving."

The 80-year-old Payson woman said she gets teary around this time every year -- Pearl Harbor Day was Thursday -- and has wanted to share her brother Bud's story for quite some time. "I get out this album every year," she said of a dark green, old-fashioned, 7-by-10-inch album with a textured cover, string and grommet binding. There are no pictures of her brother Bud in the black pages of the album any longer. She took them out to send to his children after he died in March 2004.

"I think he was the last Pearl Harbor survivor in Kansas when he died," she said.

Among the album's treasures are yellowed newspaper clippings from 1941, plus a newer clipping from 1991, when Karr was honored as a Pearl Harbor survivor in Topeka, Kan.

"I don't remember us being worried about an attack in the Pacific," Orth said.

In the album are a couple of pictures from Hawaii, received on Dec. 13, 1941. They were taken by Karr and show a beach, on which men are sunbathing. In one, his friend, Frank Hillman, in uniform with his hands behind his back, looks a little out of place with men in bathing trunks lying on the sand and palms blowing seaward in the breeze.

Orth wrote to Hillman for a time, so that is why Karr sent the pictures. Hillman sent her a few mementoes as well, like a pin made of shells.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked and Orth and her family heard the news, she said she just remembers thinking, "Is my brother OK?" Karr was the oldest child, Orth the youngest, so they had a special relationship.

"Even after I married, he would still call me Curly," she said, because when she was a child she had curly hair.

It was two weeks before the Karr family learned the fate of their son in Hawaii. They shared the news with their local newspaper, which headlined the article with the letter: "Allen County Boy Writes Home of the Jap Attack on Hawaii."

One of the first letters received by an Allen County person from relatives in the war zones is one to Mr. and Mrs. R.B. Karr, residents south of Iola, Kan., who have had a letter from their son Ahman R. Karr, who is at Honolulu -- safe and well at the time of writing.

"It's a great Christmas present for us," Mr. Karr said yesterday in displaying the letter.

The message came through censorship without any matter deleted. It contains both firsthand description of the bombing and personal comment: "Well, this is going on the fourth day of war and all is well. We still have the kitchen at Shafter and are feeding the boys in the field by truck. We might have to move out in order to serve hotter food. None of the boys in L or K batteries have been hurt. I don't know whether this letter will be censored or not. I will write another to Irene in case this doesn't reach you.

"Sunday morning I was eating breakfast when I saw a few anti-aircraft bursts over Pearl Harbor. In a few minutes they got pretty thick. The first thing we thought was that the Navy was practicing, but when the smoke started rolling we knew better. The alarm went out, and our boys started loading machine guns and ammunition belts. Some of them were on the job soon enough to get a few shots at some of the planes. They really got in some good licks in the raid Sunday night. There have been no raids since. I don't look for very many now that we are set for them. I haven't seen any Japs fall, but some of the boys have.

"The thing that makes me mad is the trouble started the day before payday. We haven't been paid yet, but I think we will before long. I spent my last 32 cents yesterday buying newspapers to take to the boys in the field.

"You wouldn't know me if you saw me running around with a steel helmet on, my trusty rifle over on my shoulder, and a gas mask on the other. Around my middle is a cartridge belt with 100 rounds of ammunition for the rifle. I don't think I'll get to use any of them -- at least not soon.

"Sunday, at one time, I saw 18 Jap bombers in two formations. That is the most I saw at one time. Now, all we see is American planes and plenty of them. It sort of tugs at one's heart to see a squadron of flying fortresses take off. They are loaded so heavy that they must run the full length of the field to take off. No one knows where they go, but they come back empty.

"I will close for now. So, aloha."

In another newspaper account, 50 years later, time and distance gave Karr a somewhat darker view of the historic event he witnessed as a young man.

From the article: "Pearl Harbor survivor to be honored in Topeka."

"Ahman Karr had just finished a stack of pancakes when he heard something that sounded like booms coming from Pearl Harbor. The Army cook in an anti-aircraft detachment just four miles away was off duty Dec. 7, 1941.

"Along with most Americans that Sunday morning almost 50 years ago, he was surprised to find out anyone was waging war against the United States." Surprised yes, he said. But he knew the Japanese were capable of such an attack. It was confirmed a few moments later when he witnessed a Japanese plane flying over Fort Shafter.

"I saw the meatball under the wing," he said. "That's what we used to call the Rising Sun."

"I wasn't no hero or anything," he said. "I was just there."

Over there and close enough to see the smoke and hear the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a few days, what damage the Japanese did inflict on the American Navy anchored at the Hawaii island was seen firsthand by Karr.

It was a lot of junk of twisted metal and steel," he remembered. "And they had to get rid of it, but there was so much of it. A lot of the buildings had holes in them."

Following the attack, Karr said he was attached to Hickman Field. His unit guarded the entry to Pearl. As one of the cooks, Karr worked to get meals out to the men at battle stations.

He later manned one of the anti-aircraft units, then took part in jungle training before ending the war on Saipan.

He was one of the first to be drafted in peacetime.

"I did my basic training at Fort Eustis, Va.," he said. "And then we were shipped to Angel Island, off San Francisco."

He arrived in Hawaii the first of August 1941. What others may have considered a paradise, Karr found rather unenjoyable ‘because I was there because of the Army.'

He said, being there at the beginning of World War II and staying for the next three years did not add to his affection for the tropical islands.

"About all I can say about being over there was that it was different," he said.

On the home front, Orth said, after the attack there was always the underlying worry, "Are we next?"

But on the family farm near Iola, Kan., there were no civil defense drills, no blackout curtains.

"We didn't have electricity, so when it was dark, it was dark," she said.

Living on a farm, their family did not fare as badly as others in the U.S. when war rationing was instituted in the spring of 1942. Orth said the rationing of gas and tires had a bigger impact on her family, and not being able to get much sugar.

"My dad had a brother living in Las Vegas, N.M. and he was sick," she said. "Dad wanted to go out and get him and bring him home. But he had to get special permission to make the trip."

Orth's brothers were not the only loved ones in her life who served in World War II.

At 18, she married Virgil Orth, who was in the Navy Air Force and flew bombing missions over Japanese territories.

Through a friend of her husband, Orth obtained another wartime correspondent, Peggy Shaw in England. The friend, Marrion Garrett, met Shaw at a U.S.O. club in England and they started dating. He exchanged the girls' addresses and they started writing, and they are still writing to one another, though they have never met.

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