Kermit Tyler and the Big Pearl Harbor Oversight

By: Daniel Garcia

On the morning of December 7, 1941, First Lieutenant Kermit Tyler  of the U.S. Air Force went to work like everyone else. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor’s radar information center at Ft. Shafter. Just before 8 a.m., a radar operator approached Tyler and pointed to a major blip on the radar. The blip was only about 135 miles away from the northern tip of the island, and it was moving closer every second.

The operator asked Tyler what to do, and Tyler uttered the words that would haunt him for the rest of his career: “Don’t worry about it.”

Unfortunately, Tyler should have worried about it. That large blip on the radar was actually the first wave of Japanese aircrafts coming directly towards Pearl Harbor. Not long after Tyler dismissed the blip, the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor – launching one of the worst attacks on the U.S. in modern history.

But who was this man whose actions might have helped prepare the harbor for attack? How did his life change on that fateful day? Could his actions have stopped the attack? Learn more about Kermit Tyler and see how one little detail can make a big difference.

Kermit Tyler’s real story

Of course, there’s more to Kermit Tyler’s story than meets the eye.

Tyler trained as a fighter pilot with the 78th Pursuit Squadron – stationed at Wheeler Field – and had little to no experience with radars. On December 7, he was working the 4 a.m.-8 a.m. shift at the Ft. Shafter radar information center. He was the officer on duty, but he had only set foot in the center once before on a walk through the previous Wednesday.

Wheeler Air Field

In truth, Tyler was actually at the information center to learn more about the radar system. When he was informed of the blip, According to historians at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Tyler was never told that the blip actually represented about 50 planes. Additionally, several B-17s were scheduled to fly into Pearl Harbor from San Francisco at 8 a.m. that morning. Tyler had no way of knowing what was actually happening.

What happened after the attack

After the attack, Tyler continued his career in the U.S. Air Force and flew many combat missions in the Pacific. He eventually retired in 1961 as a distinguished lieutenant colonel and went on to San Diego State where he earned his degree in business.

Life got a little more quiet. Tyler settled down and became a realtor and landlord. Still, his actions were forever immortalized in history books and documentaries. Over the years, Tyler received hate mail and angry phone calls from people asking why he didn’t do more to stop the attack.

Radar Pearl Harbor Radar

Military investigations as well as Congressional committees looked into Tyler’s actions on December 7, but they never found him at fault. They found he was never given enough information to make a good judgment call, and he was never trained in the position in the first place. In many ways though, Tyler has become the scapegoat for people still looking to place blame on someone, but in truth, Tyler did what he thought was right.

Arizona Memorial

Looking back, it’s unclear whether Kermit Tyler could have stopped the Japanese from bombing Pearl Harbor. Though he would’ve given the harbor an early warning, there wouldn’t have been enough time to stop the attack. Tyler passed away in 2010, and though some may only remember him for his mistake, he should be remembered for all the good things he did throughout the rest of his life.

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