Woman Recalls the Attack—70 Years Ago
BY ELIZABETH SCHUYLER SCHOLL
In April 19, 1941, good friends Olga Radke and Yvonne (Bonnie) Bost arrived in Honolulu from St. Louis for what they had planned as the adventure of a lifetime—they would see the world. Single, and prepared to serve as nurses (being unmarried was required of women nurses then), they hatched a plan to work their way through exotic places across the globe, and Honolulu, Hawaii, was first on their list. They would start work at Queen’s Hospital that same week. Bonnie would be in charge of the Woman’s Ward.
“It was an anxious time…we knew there would be a war but they were trying to work it out in Washington. We did the first and only black out drill on Memorial Day, 1941. The summer was very quiet. The Taney, the flagship of the Coast Guard docked in Pearl Harbor on December 5th, 1941, where one of its officers, a naval academy graduate, was there to marry one of our nurses, a good friend. The wedding was planned for December 6th. We had been hearing about this wonderful man and she was afraid it wasn’t going to happen; that they weren’t going to make it. But they did come and we went to this wonderful wedding in a big church. We had dinner afterwards and went out on the town. The officers invited us to the Taney for dinner the next night and they would send a car over for us.”
Arriving back home at 2:00 a.m. on the 7th, Bonnie went straight to bed looking forward to going to church that very day and then to the Taney for dinner with the officers and the beautiful new bride.
Five hours later, she awoke to the sound of planes. “When I turned on the radio…a little after 8:00 a.m., I heard the strangest thing, I heard the radio announcer’s voice quivering, ‘This is the real McCoy, they are bombing us!’ I was stunned. I thought to myself, was I dreaming? I got up right away, ran down the hall telling everyone I ran into ‘The Japanese are bombing us—get your clothes on!’ Under my breath I declared, its going to be a long day. I dressed and went right to Queen’s Hospital.” Just 12 miles from Pearl Harbor, the hospital was the only civilian hospital on the island.
“There everyone was running around putting desks together in the main lobby of the hospital because they knew the emergency room would be full soon…they had learned from World War I that they would need to sort the wounded…to preserve personnel and the limited supplies.”
The hospital was taken over by the Red Cross. The first to arrive was a wounded Chinese man, unconscious, his leg severed by a plate glass window that had blown out from a bomb that landed a block away at the Governor’s Mansion. He was bleeding badly, they put a tourniquet on his leg, and Bonnie held his hand. “He didn’t respond. At all. I had never been in such a situation….I found myself saying the 23rd Psalm ‘…as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…’ and a calmness came over me. It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.” And there were others. One had to make gut wrenching difficult decisions. Who would be attended to and who would merely receive pain medication? Bonnie and her colleagues found themselves in this incredible situation, in mere seconds deciding who would live and who would be left to die.
Army and Navy Reserve Medical Officers came looking for volunteers to go to the Harbor. “I asked to go; but they said ‘No, you have to stay, you know how to evacuate the hospital.’ So we discharged all we could and prepared the hospital. We heard planes overhead and we were instructed not to go outside but stay indoors so that shrapnel would not hit us, but we did go outside to look…and I saw a Japanese airplane very high…the big difficulty for us was to get the hospital blacked out by nightfall. We then tried to carry on in our hospital without light. We were understaffed; some of the nurses were gone to join the Army or Navy immediately. We were afraid. We charted in the linen room because it didn’t have any windows. We had to break or unscrew all the lights above the rooms and if anyone was really sick we gave them a little bell to call us during the night.”
Nurses nailed heavy dark blankets to the windows and doors, cigarettes were confiscated, and even the light bulbs in the radios were removed. At 3:00 o’clock [p.m.], Bonnie got a call from the Taney. “Hello? Have you heard? We have some trouble here and you can’t come for dinner tonight. Please make sure they all know, you can’t come for dinner tonight!”
“On Wednesday, my day off, they took us to the Navy Base Hospital, we in our own uniforms, and they told us that we didn’t have to do anything, just talk to the fellows. Well, they were all so mad! They survived and were very disgusted with everything. Some of them were not expected to live; they had gone through so much flame in the water…” As a constant reminder right outside the ward window was a downed Japanese airplane. A wounded soldier lay still in his bed; Bonnie went to him and on his nightstand found a letter that came sometime between Sunday and Wednesday. It was from his mother. She read him the letter. “I was crying before I got finished because she was thanking him for all the photographs he had just sent to her and she wanted more of him in his uniform and on his ship. He didn’t respond. And I said to him, ‘Now listen, this is from your mother and I am going to read this to you again!’ And then he pressed my hand. I was just overcome. So I put it back in the envelope and back on his desk, because I knew that everything would be sent back home and his mother would know it had been opened and he had heard it…”
In the weeks that followed they kept the hospital blacked out. “There was a lot of talk about these two-man submarines all the time because there were lava tubes formed from the volcanos that the 2-man submarines could hide in and (the fear was) they would terrorize or shoot people…”
It wasn’t until the success at Midway that personnel finally felt safe. They threw a big party for the fellows who came back. As the war went on, the Japanese became more distracted with other locations and events. Life in Honolulu calmed down and the opportunities to participate in USO dances and music jams became more frequent. Even Artie Shaw, The King of Swing, and an enlisted Navy Officer serving in the Pacific Theater showed up with his buddies at Queen’s Hospital—for a jam and dance session, though Bonnie confesses Shaw never returned “because the piano was so out of tune. We only needed to use it once a week for church.”
Joe DiMaggio came and organ-ized games and even an official visit from Mrs. Roosevelt. “She came in and woke us up early and we were all at our battle stations.” High school students brought in that year’s pineapple crop; teachers fingerprinted all the civilians and everyone was supplied a WWI gas mask that they had to carry at all times. Bonnie and her friends sewed bags to carry them in that matched their dresses. All the bars were closed, but those that gave blood got a shot of whiskey.
The USCGC Taney took heavy fire at “Pearl” and went on to defend Guadalcanal. Tragically, Bonnie’s dear friend, the bride, was never to see her groom again.
Frank Pickett sent Bonnie a ring in the “regular mail.” He asked in his letter ‘would you consider wearing this?’ Bonnie thought, “What does he mean?” Frank Pickett and Bonnie were married on June 8, 1945, at St. John’s Methodist Church in St. Louis, and then moved to Bozeman. Bonnie’s world adventures would have to take place within greater southwest Montana. And after Honolulu, she was happy with just that. “I have lived a charmed life,” she said. And we are lucky to have her.
About Mrs. Pickett
Bonnie Bost Pickett was born in 1915 in Vandalia, Illinois, and relished her participation as an avid Girl Scout and an accomplished Eaglet as a child. Bonnie went on to earn a BS degree in Nursing at Washington University, in St. Louis. After working as a Pediatric Nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and wanting to see the world, she and her good friend Olga Radke, who was also in the nurses’ residence at Washington University, decided to venture out, having planned to live and work in various destinations around the globe. Within months the two found employment as civilian nurses at Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, where Bonnie served from 1941 until 1945, with a short service onboard a hospital ship in 1943 carrying wounded military and civilians home from Guadalcanal. After the war she married and moved to Bozeman with her new husband, Frank J. Pickett, MD, in 1945. She was blessed with 3 beloved children. With shared values she made her commitment to the Daughters of the American Revolution, a nonprofit women’s service organization whose mission resonated with Bonnie’s love of her country, and where she served as Mount Hyalite Chapter Regent from 1956 to 1958, and as Regent of the State Society from 1980-1982. For more than 60 years, now at age 97, Bonnie remains an active member of the Mount Hyalite Chapter, DAR, serving Sweet Grass, Park, Gallatin and Madison counties.
Elizabeth Schuyler Scholl serves as Regent for the Mount Hyalite Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, a volunteer non-profit serving Sweetgrass, Park, Gallatin and Madison counties. DAR is committed to promoting patriotism, preserving American history and secur-ing America’s future through better education. Members are women whose Patriot Ancestors served in the Revolutionary War (see www.Mount HyaliteDAR.org).