World War II Survivor Visits HBA High School

Gayle Andersen witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor at age 15.

Seventy five years ago, fifteen year old Gayle Andersen witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor from her home on Hickam Field.

At the time, her father, William Eugene Farthing, was the commanding officer on the Hickam base. She and her mother were initially evacuated to a friend’s house in Honolulu before they ended up at the Nuuanu home of Ululani McQuaid Robertson, a Hawaiian aristocrat and accomplished opera singer. The Robertson house is now home to HBA’s high school administration office.

On December 5, Andersen visited HBA to tour what was her home in 1941. Recalling the evacuation, Andersen said, “I don’t think I even thought about my feelings. You are just concerned about what is happening and doing the best you can.” She stayed at the Robertson house for three days before returning to Hickam. “I was let loose,” reminisced Andersen about her short but memorable time at the house. “I could go anywhere I wanted to during the day. Mrs. Robertson didn’t care, so I played up and down both sides of the bank [of the stream], and the stepping stones were [just] slightly in the water, so you could go across.”

“I don’t think I even thought about my feelings. You are just concerned about what is happening and doing the best you can.”

A photography class student on assignment at the Nuuanu stream on HBA’s high school campus. World War II survivor Gayle Anderson recalls playing on the steps in the stream when she took refuge on the property during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

Andersen remembers the formal dinners she enjoyed in the company of Robertson and the host’s regal appearance. She recalled the host’s elegant muumuus, trailed over her arms as she walked down the stairs. Andersen also remembers admiring Robertson’s old opera costumes. “She wanted me to take home some clothes. I was fifteen, but I [even though I] only weighed 115 pounds, I couldn’t fit any of them. I was too big!” exclaimed Andersen.

In the following months, Andersen and her mother moved to Texas to stay with family while her father was stationed at Midway Islands. After the war ended, she and her parents lived in Washington D.C. and New Jersey. Andersen later got married and started her own family in California. She earned a teaching degree from University of California, Davis and became a kindergarten teacher after desiring a career of her own.

Andersen and her daughter returned to Hawaii this December to participate in the 75th anniversary memorial service of the Pearl Harbor bombing and other events held in honor of the men who served during World War II. It has been over 40 years since Andersen last visited Hawaii and her visit to HBA was the first time she’s been at the Robertson home since the war. “It’s just not the same at all. I wouldn’t have known where I was,” observed Andersen. “People should make progress. It’s nice that they were able to utilize the property as something beneficial.”

Andersen now lives in Winters, California on an old orange orchard. She is an active member in her community and Bridge Club.

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