In early 1941, there were many well-informed Honolulu residents who believed that war with Japan was imminent. The U.S. Navy carefully groomed several prominent citizens to train for inevitable warfare. This elite group was primed to assume key strategic positions around the city should we be attacked.My father, Harry B. Soria, Sr., then a radio personality in Honolulu, was one of the recruits.Father had achieved growing fame in the Territory of Hawaii during the 1930s as a radio announcer, emcee, songwriter, and publisher. Among his accomplishments were Hawaii’s first remotely broadcast telephone call, Hawaii’s first remote live music broadcast, and Hawaii’s second trans-Pacific weekly Hawaiian music broadcast. The Navy recognized Dad’s skills and recruited him at the beginning of 1941. He quietly enlisted, training to serve in Navy Intelligence, transitioning to active status at the onset of any crisis in Hawaii. The Naval Intelligence Office was located in the Young Hotel building. He joined the semi-secret organization of Honolulu businessmen who were training on weeknights in ‘Iolani Barracks, the old armory downtown. Within the walls of the ‘Iolani Barracks, these civilians took an oath of service and were tutored for specific duties and responsibilities they would be authorized to immediately undertake should Hawaii ever be attacked.Dad was groomed for the eventuality of assuming the position of Lead Censor for Trans-Pacific Radio Telephone communications. His task would be to take censorship control of the trans-Tacific long-distance switchboards at the Mutual Telephone Co. offices in downtown Honolulu.Early on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 6, Dad was at the studios of KGU on the 2nd floor of the Advertiser Publishing Co. at Advertiser Square. He hosted what would be the final installment of the radio program The Voice of Hawaii, which was broadcast on the NBC Red Network to the mainland U.S. and Canada, and is excerpted in the Smithsonian Channel’s new documentary The Lost Tapes: Pearl Harbor. We now know the Imperial Japanese Navy homed in on Honolulu radio transmissions to locate its target island.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Dad was startled awake by the vibrations of the explosions at Pearl Harbor. Everything that he’d secretly been drilling for was suddenly now an actuality. He knew that he was now automatically resigning from KGU Radio as he was immediately activated into his U.S. Navy position. He raced to the entrance to the Mutual Telephone building in Honolulu, scampered up to his duty station, and identified himself to the two terrified radio telephone operators on duty. Dad informed the pair that beginning immediately, he would be using two sets of headsets, one on each ear, in order to listen in to each and every operator-assisted long-distance call between the Hawaiian Islands and the mainland United States for the rest of the day.As the hours on that Day of Infamy elapsed, Dad’s training would require him to routinely lean toward one of the switchboards and disconnect the phone plug, thereby disconnecting the telephone call, and abruptly ending the conversation. The call would be terminated, if, according to the strict code that he had been taught, the content of the call was deemed inappropriate because of the discussion of now-classified details. Dad even had to disconnect calls from his former employer KGU to NBC New York.As the hours progressed, Soria continued to keep a detailed log of the content of each and every long-distance phone call that he monitored.Suddenly, a call came in from the White House for the governor of the Territory of Hawaii. After verifications were made, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Gov. Joseph Poindexter eventually were connected. Dad listened in on the entire conversation, and kept a detailed log as the two leaders discussed the ever-evolving situation, the casualties, and the latest details known. Then the subject turned to the Declaration of Martial Law. The governor followed the president’s instructions precisely and declared martial law in the Territory of Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. (Hawaii remained under it until April 4, 1943.)
Many years later, I urged my father to reveal the details of this historic moment in Hawaii’s history.My father replied that he had “taken an oath of secrecy to my country, and because of that oath I will take all of my memoirs to my grave.”When Harry B. Soria, Sr. passed away at the age of 85 on September 16, 1990, he left behind much memorabilia and photos from his wartime experience. But at some point, in his final years, he had secretly burned his treasured log book, just as he had always promised that he would.In doing so, Harry B. Soria, Sr. faithfully completed his assignment to censor each and every one of the long-distance telephone conversations in and out of the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941.I am Dad’s oldest child, born in 1948, about 7 years after Pearl Harbor, but I grew up learning about both Dad’s Hawaii radio career and his U.S. Navy service. Our family has always been proud of how he was willing to step away from his exciting radio career at its peak, and serve his country at a critical moment. The 75th observance of Pearl Harbor reminds us of how he and so many other members of his generation made sacrifices on that Day of Infamy.By Harry Soria, Jr., whose father Harry Soria Sr. is featured in the new Smithsonian Channel program, THE LOST TAPES: Pearl Harbor, which airs on Wednesday, December 7 at 9:00 pm ET/PT.