A Personal Account of Pearl Harbor: The Journal and Scrapbook of Roland Ferron

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

ScrapbookThe surprise and horror of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is infamous and led to the United States’ entry into World War II the following day. As most Americans know, the U.S. naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, was heavily damaged with more than 2,400 Americans killed and a number of naval vessels sunk or left in shambles. At nearby U.S. Army Air Corps’ Hickam Field, the Japanese destroyed 188 aircraft and damaged another 159. But what was the attack really like for individual servicemembers?

Roland Ferron was there that day and witnessed the attack firsthand. He kept a personal record of his service in World War II in a journal and a scrapbook that focus particularly on his experiences during Pearl Harbor and its aftermath.

Ferron was born on May 30, 1922, in Rhode Island and enlisted in the service on April 10, 1941. A longtime resident of Pennsylvania, he was stationed with an Army Air Corps ground crew at Hickam Field, which was connected to Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.

Ferron was walking toward the post theater for Sunday morning mass a little before 8 a.m. when the attack started. The following quotes are from his journal.

Marco Polo Hotel“I saw about thirty planes diving over Pearl Harbor. . . .  I saw the first bomb drop as it hit the battleship U.S. Maryland.  As the planes came out of their [dive], machine gunning everything or anybody they could see, I saw on the plane the sign of the ‘Rising Sun’ known to all of us as Japanese.

“By then the air was filled with anti-aircraft fire, bombs dropping, and machine guns rolling loudly at us while I dove for a pile of lumber near the YMCA, which is exactly across from the theater. . . .  All of a sudden an incendiary bomb hit the theater across the street and then she burned to the ground while I lay there praying to God to help me, because I was really scared.”

After a short while, as Ferron crossed a street attempting to get a rifle, “a Jap plane came swooping down, machine guns wide open. I think my heart skipped a bit, as I fell to the ground and rolled under a parked car as bullets hit all around me.”

A few minutes later Ferron and four other men loaded six 600-pound bombs on a trailer and headed for the runways at Hickam Field with the intention of loading American planes to retaliate against the Japanese fleet. “By then the Japs had gone back to their airplane carrier, had loaded, and were back, diving on Hickam Field.  But now I was in a very dangerous place and as they came diving down, machine guns roaring, the five of us hid under our trailer loaded with bombs.  It was our only place to hide, and we knew that if a bomb hit us, our own bombs . . . would go off and we would never know what hit us.”

Sgt. Roland Ferron, left, and his brother Daniel in their respective military uniforms, c. 1945. Roland wears a uniform of the 13th Air Force and is decorated with the Navy's Presidential Unit Citation.

Sgt. Roland Ferron, left, and his brother Daniel in their respective military uniforms, c. 1945. Roland wears a uniform of the 13th Air Force and is decorated with the Navy’s Presidential Unit Citation.

After the attack ended, Ferron headed back to the Air Corps barracks. “The place was a destruction. One bomb killed 157 men alone. Another killed 28 cooks in the mess hall. One whole squadron was killed; others were buried alive in the wreckage. As those that got away from the barracks came running out, they were met with machine gun fire, and fell where they stood. It was mass murder. About 350 were killed at Hickam that day.

“The air corps barracks, big enough to hold 1,000 men and 3 stories high, burned for 3 days. . . .  One soldier, who just stood in the opening and looked up, had his head cut off by bullets.”

Ferron separated from military service on September 4, 1945. Various anniversary publications sought his remembrances as a Pearl Harbor survivor in the following decades. After the war Ferron lived in Allentown, Lehigh County, and managed the United Dyeing & Finishing Co. in nearby Catasauqua.

In 2014 Roland Ferron’s family donated the scrapbook, photographs, and a copy of his journal to the Pennsylvania State Archives, where they are preserved in MG-7, Military Manuscripts Collection.


Richard C. Saylor is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives. He is author of the national award-winning book Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania’s Civil War Veterans Who Became State Leaders.