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Veteran returns to Bellows AFS after 65 years, recounts attack

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Its been almost 65 years since Raymond D. Stehle returned to Hawaii. Standing on the now paved dunes of an old air field, he completed a promise to his grand daughter to return to the peaceful island of Oahu to recount the day it was attacked. 

At the time, Raymond was an Army Private assigned to Hickam Field but was later transferred across the island to nearby Bellows Army Air Field as an admin clerk. Like everyone else on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he had no idea that a major attack was about to begin on the island. 

"I was sitting on my bed at 8:30 a.m., waiting for Mass to start," said Raymond. "A few minutes later I heard the drone of a single engine aircraft and the rattle of machine guns.
A lone Mitsubishi Zero was the first aircraft to drop out of the sky, strafing the tent area that housed about 80 enlisted residents assigned to the airfield. To avoid the hale of machine gun fire soldiers started jumping into ditches, hiding behind buildings and whatever else could shield them. 

"Almost immediately," Raymond said, "We have to do something." 

Raymond and a group of soldiers did, they ran up to the armory, broke down the door, and started handing out the guns and ammunition. "We were in the armory for 15 to 20 minutes getting the guns and ammunition ready ... then more Japanese came." 

Coming in from the north, nine Japanese planes flew in a V shaped formation and lined up for the attack. The gunfire raid started with a diving attack by all nine of the planes. 

The sound of 20 millimeter cannons and machine guns filled the air as the Japanese attacked the aircraft on the ground and strafed Bellows Field. 

"When they came around for the second pass it didn't matter that they fired at us because we waited to fire on them," said Raymond. 

"The strafing and return gun fire went on for 20 minutes, they went away and another group came and that went on for another 20 minutes," he said. "Then it was over." But it felt like the calm before the storm, because after the attack, almost everyone believed a land invasion would follow. 

"We ended up in a sandbag machine gun revetment on the beach waiting for the invasion," said Raymond. But it never came. "Why would they do that with no invasion?" he asked. 

Today there is still some evidence of the old flying field days. From the beach the runways extend inland until they disappear with the landscape and several landmarks
are still visible. 

It's only because of encouragement from his son and the persistence of his granddaughter that Raymond finally returned to Bellows after all these years. 

"He started talking about his war stories when I was younger," said Shelia McQueen, Raymond's granddaughter. "In the seventh grade he came to my school and gave a great presentation on what life was like in Hawaii and in the 1940's," she said. "I was very determined to get the stories out of him." 

After many conversations with his granddaughter and an offer to help from his son Vincent, Raymond couldn't resist the idea to revisit Hawaii. 

"My son and my granddaughter are my right hand and left hand," said Raymond. "I couldn't have done it without them." 

In the end Raymond kept his promise to his granddaughter, "It is a real honor to be able to hear my grandfather tell his stories," said Shelia.

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