December 7 was a Special Day
for Herman Wedemeyer

by Bill Kwan
Copyright December 7, 1996, Honolulu Star-Bulletin

 

For Herman Wedemeyer, Dec. 7, 1941, is a date that will not only live in infamy. It’s a one that he will never forget.

"That was the beginning of my adulthood," said Wedemeyer, now 72, and still one of Hawaii’s most gloried football stars. He was a consensus All-American while playing for St. Mary’s (Calif.) College.

Fifty-five years ago, though, Wedemeyer was a mere 17-year-old as were most of his high school teammates who led St. Louis to the 1941 Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship.

Talk about growing up fast, practically overnight.

Led by Wedemeyer’s triple-threat heroics, the Crusaders won the ILH title with a 33-0 victory over Punahou in the Thanksgiving Day game. But that didn’t end their season.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were on Kauai for two exhibition football games. They played on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 6, at Isenburg Field. But never got to play the following day. That was when World War II began.

"We were at breakfast Sunday morning when we got the news that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor," Wedemeyer recalled.

Not only was playing football out of the question after that, so was school.

The St. Louis football team was stranded on Kauai for two weeks. "We couldn’t leave. We couldn’t get home. All travel was based on priority with defense workers going first," Wedemeyer said.

Wedey’s father, Bill, was on Kauai to watch his son play. He worked at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, so he got to return to Oahu in a hurry.

Wedemeyer and his teammates weren’t as fortunate. They were conscripted to serve as volunteers for guard duty during their two-week stay on the Garden Island.

Little did they realize that when a Star-Bulletin sports story said earlier in the week that St. Louis was going on a "Garden Isle invasion" truer words were not spoken.

"We were young boys and they put us out in the field. We had to do guard duty at night. Guarding the beach or (Nawiliwili) harbor or the water tanks in the hills above Lihue. We didn’t have anything to guard with. Some of us went out and bought pocket knives. Everyone was scared of an invasion."

"It was spooky. Everything was dark because of the blackout. My imagination was running wild. Every star looked like a ship or a parachute coming down," Wedemeyer continued.

"Every night was torture. Nobody wanted to go out at night. Every time you go out, you didn’t know what to expect. We knew nothing of wars. All of a sudden, bang. Our whole lives changed. We matured overnight."

The Crusaders slept at a school gymnasium, worrying all the time about the safety of their families. They had no idea what was going on back on Oahu because of a radio silence. Parents, too, worried about their stranded sons.

It wasn’t long after the St. Louis players finally returned that their campus was taken over by the U.S. Army for a hospital. So they attended classes at McKinley High School.

But school work became secondary. Able-bodied young men like Wedemeyer were needed at Pearl Harbor, putting ships back into commission. He remembers the train rides from the Oahu Railway and Land Company depot at Iwilei to Pearl Harbor and back.

"Young kids riding with adults. You learned to shoot craps then. That’s what they did during the long ride back and forth," he said.

The age of innocence was over.

Today Wedemeyer observes his fifty-five Dec. 7th since then, probably playing golf. "But that’s one Dec. 7 I’ll never forget. That one’s indelible in my mind. That was the beginning of my adulthood."

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