ONE: “THE INVASION”
Excitement pulsed down our Palm Drive alley as the word spread rapidly. “It’s the invasion!!” “They’re here!!” The game of kick the can was ended abruptly as we gathered to find out what was up. “It’s the Japs!” (note: spoken by seven-year-olds during WWII) “They’re here!” “They’re about to land at the beach!” “Down at 22nd Street!” “How do you know? Did you see them?” “No, but the army is down there digging foxholes!” “There are machine guns, and sandbags, and bullets (we didn’t have ammo in our vocabulary yet) — and everything!!” “Come and see!!”
We set off without considering that maybe it was quite a reach to believe that they were going to let kids into a war zone, anyway, we were too excited for logical thinking. But when we arrived at 22nd and Strand — sure enough, there they were — the US Army digging-in foxholes, stacking sandbags, setting-up 35mm water-cooled machine guns. The soldiers were wearing those round World War I helmets and leggings. They were uncrating belts of ammo and loading them into the machine guns. There was a lot of shouting orders and we young alley rats were too excited to notice that no one was firing any bullets and you couldn’t really see any sign of any invasion force on the horizon.
We were all too young to understand anything about the need for training exercises — which is exactly what this was. No, to our imaginative young minds “THIS WAS IT!!!” And, “it” remained to be “it” for some time — until someone yelled, “Get the hell out of here! We’re training and you’re in the way!” The “invasion” was the real thing to us back in those days because this was not long after Hermosa experienced its first epic sea battle.
TWO: “HERMOSA’S NAVAL ENGAGEMENT"
We were early in 1942 still caught-up in the all too real and tragic events of Dec. 7th when our “naval battle” took place just off the Hermosa Pier. The battle was waged between an Army dive bomber (we didn’t have a separate Air Force designated yet) and a Japanese submarine.
The bombing was real enough — swarms of Hermosans heard the explosions and ran to the pier to witness the action. Those who made it there saw the dive bomber making its runs and dropping bombs. They witnessed the explosions and fonts of water. This was all seen clearly by the crowd — but no one to my memory saw anything of a Japanese sub — proof, we all thought, that it was sunk. This was a war time big event and it lived on in Hermosa folk song and legend, but strangely nothing of the sea battle ever appeared in the press — to avoid early war panic we reasoned and we were probably right.
THREE: “THE TOWER"
Day by day a giant wooden tower was gradually being erected on a dirt rise just north of Gould Avenue and seaward of Camino Real (Hwy. 101 or Pacific Coast Hwy. now). To those of us who watched its progress from the North School play yard it was mysterious and threatening. Some days after it appeared to be completed, those of us brave enough (which usually did not include me) decided to investigate. From the Railroad Drive train track, we cautiously ascended the rise of dirt fields toward the ominous tower. There at the crest of the hill it stood defiantly like something alien from a 50s Science Fiction movie. It appeared to stare down at us as we approached. There were no signs, not even “stay out.” As we drew nearer it appeared to be unoccupied.
Driven by curiosity and false young bravado, we entered the tower through a small door at the base and after a little prodding of each other we began a slow ascent up a long wooden ladder built into the tower wall. The tower creaked threateningly and an afternoon breeze whistled through the planking — we didn’t stop. Finally at the top, we came out onto a large platform, which had a wide and open window with a commanding view of the entire Pacific Ocean. We realized that it would be a commanding view of the expected Japanese invasion fleet. This was our “Watch Tower” from which we would spot the fleet and give warning.
The invasion to our young minds was both likely and expected. After all, hadn’t they attacked Pearl Harbor and almost invaded Midway? Obviously their next target would be Hermosa!! Actually, “our” tower was one in a chain of “early warning” watch towers running from Palos Verdes to beyond Santa Monica and manned by volunteer citizens with binoculars. We knew of no towers except ours and it was unmanned!!! In the total absence of official observers (the deserters!!) we took over the post and manned the observation window — at least until dinner time. Of course no fleet appeared, but we manner our post dutifully, glorying in the conviction that we were doing our part to make Hermosa’s shores safe for democracy.
The preceding accounts are based entirely on my memories of events taking place in Hermosa Beach in the 1940s. There has been no effort made to research or authenticate events described and are offered here not as historical accounts, but just what they are — memories of a young boy. They are offered with the hope of portraying what it was like growing up as a 7-11 year old in wartime Hermosa of the 40s. Any correction of facts or supplementation of related background would have probably been rejected by my 7-11 year old self, but now any such offerings would be welcome and greatly appreciated by my present 76 year old self. As they are now, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed recalling them.