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Close encounter at Pearl Harbor

By JUDY LINDER-ASHAKIH • Updated Dec 7, 2018 at 10:23 AM

Six-year-old Eloise Zablan was walking nonchalantly home from children’s Mass by herself about 8:30 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941. Her home was near Waikiki Beach, not far from Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Now, Eloise (Zablan) Ritz recalls “all different military services were there, Army, Navy, Air Force.”

“They had mock exercises with planes flying over all the time. I was walking home watching the planes. As I meandered home I saw there was black smoke coming from them.

“Our house was on the other side of the street from the school. I didn’t know it at the time, but our anti-aircraft guns were shooting bombs from their positions. These were landing in the school lot. There was a big hole in that lot,” Ritz said.

“As I got home my mom opened the door and pulled me in. At that moment a big piece of shrapnel went by her, an inch in front of her face. She felt the heat and was pushed backwards by the force of it. The shrapnel hit a coconut tree in our neighbors’ yard and cut it right off.”

Ritz’s grandfather owned three houses in a row on the street, his own, her parents’ house, and her uncle’s next door. Near their street was a bridge that went over a creek which led to Diamond Head where lots of ammunition was stored in the crater.

“You know men,” she quipped. “They went out to the bridge to see what was going on when a military patrol came out and said to ‘Get away from the bridge, get under cover.’ Dad and his brothers had to dig air raid shelters in our yard.”

She recalled her mother getting out all her sheets that evening to cover the windows due to the blackout. All the lights had to be out and they had been told to boil their water before use.

“We had the radio on and Mother had us sit next to it the whole time saying the Rosary over and over,” Ritz said.

As her mother’s brother was a civilian working at the Pearl Harbor base, he told them the next morning that “when they walked in to work military guards were checking IDs. If they said 'halt' and if you took one step more they would shoot.”

So many military dependents were to be sent back to the United States that some had to wait for transportation. One woman and her children came to stay a short time with little Ellie's family.

“Finally,” Ritz said, “after I don't know how long, we were going back to school.

“The National Guard had taken over half our school so elementary went in the morning and the high school in the afternoon. We students had to have IDs and wear them around our necks all the time. We had to wear gas masks continually, the old type, heavy. If you didn't have it you didn't go to school.”

Air-raid shelters were built in the school yard by the National Guard.

“They were there conducting the drills that went on all the time, instead of fire drills. They wanted to be sure we knew what to do,” she said.

“The irony of all this was that even though the school was across the street from us (her family), not one of us was injured. Two blocks away was a Japanese neighborhood where many of the Japanese planes had dropped their bombs and there were lots of casualties,” Ritz said sadly.

About half her schoolmates, many of them her friends, were Chinese or Japanese, and weren’t Catholic, but wanted the education. She still gets emails from girls in her class who are Chinese, Indonesian or Japanese.

“We all were friends,” she said.

“I have my mother to thank for such good friendships. She was laid back and accepted everyone. She had all our friends over to visit, to eat and socialize. My Dad's brother married a Chinese lady, so my cousins are oriental,” Ritz said proudly.

On reaching high school at Mary Knoll, Martin was advised to take college prep courses, leading her to college in Salina, Kan., on a full scholarship. She then began teaching school on the U.S. Air Force base there, where she met a soldier, married and became Eloise Ritz. Her husband was born in Attica.

When his tour was over, they decided to leave Kansas to be closer to his family. They chose Huron, where he could be near a job at NASA. Martin, now Ritz, began teaching elementary school for the Berlin-Milan school district (now called Edison Local Schools).

Ritz retired after 34 years at what’s now Edison Middle School, where she said she always encouraged her students to study other cultures and of course, explained about her life in Hawaii and about World War II. Over the years she has been invited countless times by social groups to speak about her experiences.

“The Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial was dedicated my senior high school year. I was editor of our school paper and was invited to the service as representative of my paper. I just loved it.

“That memorial is …,” she said hesitating at length, yet couldn't find the right word. “You feel like there is a presence. In that huge area you could hear a pin drop, the visitors were so quiet.”

Her entire family has visited Honolulu over the years to see what life might have been like as she grew up.

“My boys and son-in-law are history buffs. The highlight of their trip is always the memorial,” Ritz said.

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