Thursday, December 6, 2001

Mainers remember Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941

Published in the Current

Infantryman Albert Riopel
Albert Riopel, 84, spends most of his days in the Maine Veterans Home on Rt. 1 in Scarborough. And though he is in the company of a great many veterans of World War II, he hasn’t found anyone else who was at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese attacked.

He volunteered for the infantry in 1940 and after training he went to Pearl Harbor, to prepare for an attack on Japanese positions on Corregidor, an island stronghold in the Pacific.

Preparations were under way as negotiations deteriorated between the Japanese and U.S. governments, and war appeared more probable. But nobody expected the attack that peaceful Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941.

He was just getting up when the attack began.

“It was a fiasco. (The Japanese) knew what they were doing,” Riopel said. They bombed the harbor, the barracks and the airfield, destroying much of the military hardware in Hawaii.

Riopel’s unit was sent to Clark Field to defend it from attack.

Everyone expected the Japanese to land and try to take the island, and Riopel thinks they might have succeeded. But they didn’t try.

“They wanted to cripple the Navy,” he said. “It was over in no time at all.”

After the attack, the invasion force, including Riopel, headed for Corregidor, but found it surrounded by enemy submarines.

So they invaded New Guinea instead. Fighting in the jungle was merciless, he said, and difficult because of the thick underbrush.

The Japanese would hide all over the place and attack from any direction, Riopel said.

“Every time we’d go on patrol the first one (in line) would get killed—the first one and the last one,” Riopel said.

He doesn’t like to remember the scenes he saw, but did say he watched many of his friends die over the four years he spent fighting in the jungle.

“It was rough,” Riopel said. “I lost a lot of my friends there.”

He said fighting in the Pacific was brutal. “Many times I wished I was in Europe,” he said, where soldiers would capture a city and then celebrate.

Riopel especially envied the access to wine the European soldiers had.

But in the Pacific things were different.

“You capture one island and you go on to the next,” he said.

Even worse, General MacArthur wouldn’t let his unit go back to the U.S. “He wouldn’t let us leave because we had experience,” Riopel said.

He especially respected the Australian soldiers, whom he described as tough and skilled fighters, though they would stop for tea twice a day, he said, “no matter where they were.”

He wasn’t a career soldier, and after the war ended he came to Maine and worked in mills for more than 40 years. He lived in Westbrook and two weeks ago sold the house he owned in that town for over 55 years.

His daughter lives in Cape Elizabeth, and he gets a lot of visits from his family, but when he sits alone sometimes, he said, memories of what he saw in the war come flooding back.

Nurse Revella Guest
Revella Guest was born Nov. 8, 1912, in Brownville Junction to a Canadian mother and an English father. She went to high school in the town, and then went to Portland to study nursing at Maine General Hospital, graduating in 1935.

Her papers, now in the care of a relative in Scarborough, tell the story of her life, including her experience as a nurse at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Restless with private duty work around Portland, she became an Army nurse on Jan. 30, 1930. By March of 1941 she was heading to Tripler Army Hospital near Honolulu, the capital of the then-territory of Hawaii. She was lodged at Hickam Field, which would suffer serious damage in the Dec. 7 attack. On Dec. 5, though, the nurses were moved from their four-person apartments back to rooms at Tripler.

That night, she and some of her nursing friends went to dinner on the battleship USS West Virginia with some warrant officers serving
on that ship.

As they ate and watched a movie, it never crossed their minds that Japan could attack. “Everybody was just having a good time and doing their duty. We never thought anything about that,” Guest said.

On Dec. 7, just like the day before, she was scheduled for the morning shift.

The attack
At 7 a.m., Dec. 7, she reported for work at the hospital, and was doing routine work on the ward, when it happened.

“All of a sudden the radio started blaring for all military people to report back to their stations. We had porches and I was out looking on the back porch, and I saw some, heard some guns, and I saw black smoke coming up. I thought, ‘My goodness! I’ve never seen that before!’” she said.

“Then the radio started to blare that we were being attacked by the Japanese. Then I called down to my friends where they were, and I told them to get up and get dressed because everybody was going to be working, because we were being attacked by the Japanese,” Guest said.

The hospital had fewer staff on duty over the weekend, with some people having time off and even some patients out on a pass. But she knew it would be a busy day.

“We knew that when we were being attacked that we were going to have casualties because we were the largest general hospital on the island. In fact, we were the only general hospital,” she said.

She spent the first few minutes getting the walking wounded out of the hospital to make room for more seriously injured people. When she was done, only two patients remained, both of whom were in traction, but they were not about to let that stop them.

“I had to watch those guys like a hawk,” she said, “because they were going to cut themselves out of traction and go to war.”

Her ward became a post-operation ward, where patients went after surgery. “You had amputees, abdominal wounds, head injuries. You name it, and it was there,” Guest said.

She and one other nurse were racing around caring for 65 patients, changing intravenous fluids and providing other care to the men, as
they came out from under anaesthesia. They didn’t have time to do proper charts, but instead scribbled the time of the last morphine injection a patient received on a scrap of paper at the head of each bed.

As night fell, the hospital was blacked out to protect against air raids. She needed to give a shot to a patient on the porch, and removed the piece of blue carbon paper from the front of the flashlight, so she could see the vein. “I’d take that thing off and some guard would holler, ‘Put out that light or I’ll shoot!’ I’d yell, ‘Shut up until I give this shot!’” she laughed.

She worked through the whole night and into the next day without any sleep. She was first able to change into a clean uniform at 6 a.m. Dec. 8.

A few days after the attack, she and a friend went to the local telegraph office to deliver their first news to their families that they were OK. Her telegram just said, “Revella.”

The first shipload of patients headed back to the mainland on Christmas Day, after Guest and her colleagues spent a lot of time Christmas Eve bandaging patients to be ready for travel.

Still tied to Maine
Her family remembers her as having loved Maine and returning as often as possible.

Her papers and other effects were distributed among the family. Many of her World War II records and items are now with her sister-inlaw’s
cousin, Ken Dolloff of Scarborough.