The Unexpected Heroines of Pearl Harbor

March 23, 2017

When the Japanese swooped in on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, it did more than devastate the United States Pacific Fleet. It brought people together and encouraged otherwise passive civilians to join the response effort in some capacity. During the course of the attack, many people didn’t stop to think about what they could do to help. They reacted in the only way they could – by assisting the servicemen and fellow citizens who were affected by the incoming bombardment.

Among those who refused to sit back and watch their island succumb to enemy fire was a group of women from a notorious section of downtown Honolulu. Prostitutes from Honolulu’s Hotel Street were among the many who joined in helping the American troops being cut down by Japan’s fighters and bombers, putting their own lives at risk to provide aid in a multitude of ways.

The Women of Hotel Street

For people in Honolulu, the first signs of the attack on Pearl Harbor was an eruption that echoed through the air and the sirens that blared from the military installation. Shortly after, nearby buildings and street corners became targets of Japan’s machine gun fire and bombs. When the attack was over, the prostitutes of Hotel Street organized themselves into an unexpected relief effort, becoming some of the first providers of assistance.

Thousands of American soldiers were wounded throughout the attack, many needing blood to survive near-fatal wounds. The women of Hotel Street were among the first to start donating, ultimately providing gallons of blood for the injured. With a shortage of hospital beds and an abundance of injured servicemen, a brothel on Hotel Street was turned into a makeshift medical ward. The women gave up their beds and assisted in caring for the soldiers who came in.

Their assistance went even beyond donating blood and giving up their space as many continued to work with the Army doctors, helping to keep the area free of clutter and debris. Several women of Hotel Street assisted nurses, changing the linens and bathing and feeding the men injured during the attack. Their knack for compassion came in handy in trying to calm the many shaken servicemen.

Left Out of History

Even after reading many accounts of Pearl Harbor, chances are you've never heard of the women of Hotel Street. Their heroics go largely unsung and unrecognized. 75 years after the attack, they’ve yet to be honored for their service to the men most affected during the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to former Navy Seaman First Class Donald Statton, who was aboard the USS Arizona and was one of the survivors from that ship to receive aid by the women of Hotel Street, their memory can live on in his book All the Gallant Men: An American Sailors Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor, in which he takes pains to mention the brave women of Hotel Street.

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