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Air attack hit home for Spotsylvania man
Retired Air Force major from Spotsylvania witnessed Pearl Harbor attack from another perspective

 Donald Funai, 81, who is of Japanese descent, witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, while living in Hawaii. He later served in the U.S. Air Force and worked as an air-traffic controller. He now lives in Spotsylvania.
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Date published: 12/7/2012


As Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor, among those witnessing the attack was 10-year-old Donald Funai.

Seventy-one years ago today, the son of Japanese-American parents had gathered with friends for an early-morning baseball game on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, not far from the harbor.

"Some older kids had gotten there first, so we couldn't play," said Funai, 81, now a retired Air Force major and former air-traffic controller, who lives in Spotsylvania County.

As Funai and his pals waited on the sideline on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, "We could hear a dull kind of thuds in the distance. The military was always having maneuvers," he recalled.

Two blocks from the field, the group climbed a hill where they could see Honolulu and the harbor, a few miles away.

"We could see all this black smoke. One kid said it was burning sugar cane--they did that prior to harvesting," Funai said. Another boy thought it was the military burning surplus oil.

They could make out what appeared to be fireworks exploding over the harbor, and watched a ship zigzagging between massive plumes of water.

They had no inkling that the fireworks were exploding anti-aircraft shells, or that the ship was dodging bombs.

One of his companions then spotted three planes speeding past Diamond Head toward Pearl Harbor.

"We were all airplane enthusiasts," Funai said. At first, the aircraft appeared to be American bombers on a training run.

"Then this kid says, 'Did you see that red dot on the wing?'" They knew it was the rising-sun symbol of the Japanese empire.

About that time, a policeman pulled up to the overlook, ordering the boys to go home. The magnitude of what they'd seen began to sink in, Funai said.

"We were thinking, Oh, s---! We're kids with Japanese ancestry"


Oahu was home to many Japanese immigrants who came to work in Hawaii's sugarcane and pineapple fields. Before the war, more than a third of Hawaii's population was of Japanese descent.

Funai's parents, Francis and Madelyn, were born in Hawaii. In 1941, Francis worked at a bank; Madelyn was at home with the children.

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