When I was 3 years old, my mother, brother and I left Honolulu aboard the Lurline, heading for San Francisco on Dec. 5, 1941. As an adult, I realized this was to be a “trial separation” for my parents, but my memory is of my father standing on the pier blowing kisses.
In those days, people flung streamers from the ship railings and a band played, and it took a long time for a ship to sail out of sight while everyone waved and wept.
My mother and I were assigned a cabin with another single woman while my brother was bunked in a different part of the ship, too old at 10 to be sharing a cabin with our unknown roommate.
All went well for two days until suddenly the pleasure cruise was over. All service ended when we learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The crew immediately painted every porthole black to ensure our lights would not reveal our position to enemy ships with torpedoes.
Our roommate insisted we bring my brother into our cabin as she rightly feared that in the event of having to abandon ship in different life boats, we might never see each other again. He slept on our floor for the rest of the trip.
The dining room shut down, but fortunately my mother had befriended a steward who continued to serve us, scrounging meals from the chaos of the kitchen. The ship’s bar was instantly closed, but the crew was able to bootleg the contents to the desperate passengers. My mother was disgusted that the response of many was to gather in the main salon to drink and sing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
The records state that upon hearing of the attack, the Lurline headed for San Francisco as fast as possible, but my mother’s memory was that the ship began moving on a zig-zag course to mislead any lurking enemies, adding days to our trip.
My brother’s memories of the voyage were quite happy. As a curious child, he had scoped out the ship thoroughly. He found young couples were willing to pay him quite well just to point out places where they could find a bit of privacy. He ended his trip with full pockets.
When we arrived in San Francisco, we feared my father, a civilian working at Pearl Harbor, had died. The rumors in Honolulu were that the Lurline had been sunk with no survivors. It took some time, because of heavy censorship, to learn our family was still intact.
My dad’s memories of the attack were of running while they were being strafed by Japanese Zeroes. He fell and lay there for a while until he realized he wasn’t injured, so he got up and ran with the others to safety.
Two years later, we were living in Glendale, California, and my mother was working on getting me into the movies. She felt Hollywood needed a little brunette with sausage curls as contrast to Shirley Temple. I have a card that states I am a member of The Screen Actors Children’s Guild.
But when she asked me if I wanted to be a movie star or if I wanted to go home, as a 5 year old, I chose my daddy, so we returned to a very different Hawaii.
— Reichle lives in Baton Rouge
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