Driving to work in the black pre-dawn hours of Dec. 7, 1941, Lt. Kermit Tyler turned on the radio to listen to some music. It was a random act that would change the course of history.
Lt. Tyler was about to begin his 4 a.m. shift at the Information Center at Fort Shafter Army Base in Honolulu when he tuned into local radio station KGMB.
Forty miles away on the north shore of Oahu, Privates George Elliot and Joseph Lockhard were stationed high on a bluff overlooking Turtle Bay, experimenting with a new technology known as radar. The Opana Radar Site was a mobile unit consisting of several military vehicles using the new technology.
At 7:02 a.m., Elliot detected a group of approaching aircraft 132 miles out at sea. What he didn’t know was that it was a strike force of 183 Japanese planes making its way toward Pearl Harbor.
Elliot and Lockhard reported their findings to the Information Center at Fort Shafter, where all but two of the staff had gone to breakfast. This was Lt. Tyler’s second day at the Information Center.
After getting the initial report of approaching aircraft, Lt. Tyler, a pilot with the 78th Pursuit Squadron at Wheeler Field, reasoned that what they were seeing on radar was a group of B-17 bombers due in that morning from San Francisco.
He also remembered a pilot friend of his telling him that KGMB only played music at night so pilots could use the radio beam to help guide them. Using those two pieces of information, Lt. Tyler famously told the Opana Radar operators “not to worry about it.”
Elliot and Lockhard continued to plot the approaching aircraft until they lost track of them at 7:40 a.m.
Fifteen minutes later, the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced.
No warning was issued.
Army planes remained wing-to-wing on the ground.
Navy ships remained motionless in the harbor.
They were all sitting ducks.
The attack crippled the U.S. Navy and catapulted the United States into World War II.
There are few of us who were alive to remember the shock of that attack 78 years ago today, but it remains one of the most significant moments in our history.
Over 2,400 Americans were killed that day. Its only historical equivalent may be the attacks on 9/11.
Hundreds remain entombed in the battleship Arizona, and thousands continue to make the pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor to pay their respects and hear the story of the sneak attack, and how the United States overcame it.
But few have heard the story of the Opana Radar Site and how its warnings were ignored.
On the grounds of the Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore of Oahu, there is a historical marker that recounts the story of that critical early warning, and why Lt. Tyler ignored it. It is just yards from the resort swimming pool.
In the distance, where a naval communications base now stands, is the approximate location of the radar station.
One of the historical markers described Lt. Tyler as “the most misunderstood actor in the drama of Pearl Harbor.”
It goes on to say Lt. Tyler “has been abused by history.”
It concludes that the failure to heed the warning was a failure of organization. There was no way to communicate the information about this new technology in a timely way to those in command.
Radar would go on to play an important role in World War II, but not on Dec. 7, 1941.
Instead of being heroes, the men at the Opana Radar Site became footnotes to what might have been.
Tingley is the editor of The Post-Star and may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog “The Front Page” discusses issues about newspapers and journalism. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kentingley
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