After Pearl Harbor: B&W film makes it past censors five months later

Marine E.H. VanBlaricom (left) and a buddy from Oklahoma were "recreating" at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel shortly before shipping out to battle when this photo was taken. It was the last bit of recreating they enjoyed for some time.

While rummaging through some old black-and-white pictures taken 60 years ago, I came upon a very rare photo that I think has some historical significance.

Let me set the scene:

I joined the U.S. Marines the day after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Five months later, I found myself stationed on the Island of Oahu going through more intensive training involving live ammunition and battle tactics for the upcoming amphibious landings in the South Pacific.

We were frequently permitted to go on liberty on weekends where we could join the swarms of mostly sailors on shore leave in Honolulu. The jitters from the devastating attack on Dec. 7, 1941, were beginning to die down somewhat, although we had only to look out on nearby Pearl Harbor Naval Base to see all five of our battleships resting on the bottom of the bay with their twisted superstructures protruding as embarrassing monuments to our complacency (all of these battleships were eventually refloated, repaired and returned to duty except the USS Arizona which rolled over on its side entombing over 1,000 sailors).

Another interesting side line to this trip down memory lane is that while President Roosevelt had sent all the Japanese residents on the mainland to containment camps far inland from the Pacific coast; Hawaii had a huge population of people of Japanese ancestry (along with every other ethnic group) and nobody paid any attention to them. And this was right at the hub of all the military activity in the Pacific war zone.

To get away from the multitudes of service men in overcrowded Honolulu, my best buddy and I would take a bus out to Waikiki Beach when we got liberty. Very few people today know that the USO had taken over the plush Royal Hawaiian Hotel at Waikiki Beach. At the time, it was the only destination resort hotel out there, and was totally dedicated to the recreation of our armed forces for the duration of the war.

Anyone in uniform could go there and use the luxurious facilities, including checking out any kind of athletic or swimming gear for free. We would check out swimming trunks, towels and surfboards to play in the warm waters of the Pacific.

One Sunday I checked out an old Kodak camera with 12 black and white pictures in the roll. I took several snapshots at random of the scenic beauty around Waikiki. When I got back to Honolulu I put them in a photo shop to be developed.

It's almost amusing to us veterans of WWII to hear today's generation scream and whine about any form of censorship by our government. They have no idea about the extreme censorship all the service men that were overseas in the war zones had to endure. All outgoing mail was censored. Any references as to where you were or anything of a military nature that you were involved in were cut out of our letters.

By a stroke of luck, my Marine battalion was told to pack our bags and get aboard ship in two days. So I hurried down to the photo shop to get my roll of pictures. I was able to talk them into letting me have them without going through the normal censors. And since I never sent them through the mail, my pictures of the beach defenses at Waikiki were never censored. Somehow, I made it home with them (my only pictures of the war).

If I had been a little bolder when I took the picture of the barbed wire entanglement, I could have photographed a lone soldier sitting behind a few sandbags with an old WWI .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun aimed at the beach. It was almost a laughable token of the lack of resistance any invading Japanese force would have faced if they had come prepared to capture Hawaii. This lone soldier was just ten yards behind me when I snapped the picture showing a few people sunbathing with the famous hotel and Diamond Head in the background.

Of course this picture of beach defenses (or lack of) had practically no military significance, but it was a reminder to me of how strict our censorship was back in WWII. It can also serve as a reminder to today's generation that some of us had to give up almost all of our freedoms, privileges and sometimes our lives to preserve these same freedoms that are taken for granted by today's spoiled Americans who for the most part don't know about our history and what's more, don't even care.

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