Personalities: A Pearl Harbor Survivor's Story

Dec 2, 2017

Charles "Chuck" Isakson (1917-1997), a Webster native and longtime Huron resident, was among some 50 South Dakotans who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He told his story to a gathering at the Huron Elks Club in 1993. Chuck Anderson, Huron radio personality and host, recorded and preserved the speech.

Schofield Barracks - 1920s
Credit U.S. Army

Isakson was serving with the 19th Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, a large Army garrison in the middle of the island of Oahu. Schofield Barracks was adjacent to Wheeler Army Airfield, one of the first sites hit in the attack. (Wheeler and the other airbases on Oahu were a priority target for Japanese pilots. They wanted to quickly inflict as much damage as possible to U.S. aircraft on the ground and prevent them from engaging their own aircraft in the sky.)

Chuck Isakson remembers going to bed early on Saturday, December 6th. He had a job to do in the morning. He'd been ordered to build a boxing ring in the middle of the Barracks Quad on Sunday and wanted to get an early start. He was on his way to breakfast when the attack came.

Pearl Harbor - Smoke rises from Wheeler Airfield in the distance
Credit Library of Congress

Isakson couldn't believe what he was seeing. He returned to his quarters, grabbed a .45 caliber pistol and joined up with other soldiers preparing for action. They didn't have rifles, ammunition, or a plan. Isackson says they were so unprepared for the attack that getting ready to fight was an almost painfully slow and complicated process.

Schofield Barracks Quad - Isakson was supposed to have built a boxing ring here on December 7.
Credit National Park Service

Four service members were killed in the attack on Schofield Barracks. One Japanese-American soldier stationed at Schofield was killed by friendly fire in downtown Honolulu. He was trying to get back to the base. Thirty-three service members were killed at Wheeler Airfield. 2400 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and civilians were killed on other airfields, in the harbor itself, and in populated areas near the attack.

Wheeler Field after the attack

After the attack came the rumors. Some were scary, others outlandish. 

Months later, Isakson and his regiment joined the fighting in the South Pacific. He was sent to Australia, then to New Guinea, then to the Philippines. Isakson returned from the Philippines to Huron, married and had children. He worked for 27 years as the advertising manager for Northwestern Public Service, now named Northwestern Energy.

Listen to Chuck Isakson's complete 1993 speech at the Huron Elks Club:

Watch the SDPB documentary Pearl Harbor Survivors: South Dakota Stories at watch.sdpb.org