The Examiner

Pearl Harbor Diary Holds Deep Meaning for Chappaqua Woman

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Marvelle Gilbert holds a picture of her and her late husband, Paul. After he died in 1997, she found in a drawer his first-hand account of the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
Marvelle Gilbert holds a picture of her and her late husband, Paul. After he died in 1997, she found in a drawer his first-hand account of the bombing at Pearl Harbor.

In the living room of Marvelle Gilbert’s Chappaqua house, there are photos of her late husband, Paul, in his Army uniform during World War II and of the young couple shortly after they were married in 1945.

But there is another possession Marvelle has that provides maybe an even deeper connection to the man she was married to for more than 50 years.

Shortly after Paul died in January 1997, she found in his desk drawer a typed seven-page, double-spaced, first-hand account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Gilbert, an Army tech sergeant who was stationed at the Hawaii military installation on Dec. 7, 1941, and throughout the war, jotted down notes that day of what was happening around him. Sometime later, he typed up his notes and put the one-day diary into the bottom of the drawer.

Not long after Paul’s passing, Marvelle, now 91, was looking through some of his belongings and found the diary. She wasn’t completely surprised at her discovery. Over the years, Paul, who spent most of his career working as a publishers’ representative, would author poems and other writings for her.

“It brings me closer to him,” Marvelle explained. “He loved to write. I loved to write. Both my sons love to write. Of course when I found it I cried.”

Marvelle said she and Paul had met the previous year at a dance in their native Indiana. An accordion player, Paul was leading the band and Marvelle was convinced by a neighbor to attend, although she was just 16. During the dance, the trumpet player came off the stage to ask her who she was because the band leader wanted to meet her. Almost before he could speak, Marvelle was quizzing him about the band leader.

From early on in their courtship, she had a feeling Paul was the one.

“I knew it right away, but we had a few differences that had to be worked out,” Marvelle said. “Then he was drafted, so we didn’t really get to have a long-term relationship.”

Paul, 10 years older than she, was drafted in early 1941. Although they wrote to each other daily, he wasn’t allowed to divulge where he was stationed. She wouldn’t learn until about six months after the attack that he had been at Pearl Harbor, and survived the bombings that killed more than 2,400 American servicemen.

On the opening page, Paul Gilbert wrote about how the morning of Dec. 7 was a peaceful tropical morning. At 7:30 a.m. local time, about 20 minutes before the first wave of attacks started, many of the men, particularly the new arrivals at the base, were in the midst of writing letters home. That peacefulness was shattered a short time later.

“We heard explosions nearby,” Gilbert’s first entry at 7:55 a.m. read. “Some of the men looked up, then went back to writing their letters. Explosions are common around here…But not on Sunday! Odd! A plane roared by overhead. Very low. We heard the sound of men running…So we ran out too.”

He saw a brown Japanese pursuit plane completing a circle and approaching the base again, flying extremely low.

“I could see the pilot’s goggled head peering out at us from over the side of the cockpit,” Paul continued. “I was puzzled at the insignia painted on the plane. It was the Rising Sun insignia of Japan. Could this be a super-realistic maneuver?”

Bullets flew over the heads of Gilbert and the men he was with, narrowly missing them and they dove for cover.

Gilbert’s account includes how the Americans scrambled to respond, but struggled to get their weapons out and planes into the sky. He also wrote about the carnage that he saw and the gruesome casualties of the men who were gunned down or ambushed, some while still in their barracks.

“The three fellows hit by the plane don’t look at all like the ones you see die in Hollywood war films, where death is very clean and you die in one piece,” he wrote.

During the 9:30 a.m. entry, which was between waves of attacks, Gilbert mentioned that one man was “suspiciously eyeing my jotting down these notes. He comes up now with an officer to have me investigated. Fortunately, this officer happens to be my commander so it’s OK.”

By 11:30 a.m. the attacks were over and all was quiet.

After the war, Gilbert was discharged at Fort Dix, N.J. Marvelle had attended college during the war and many of her friends were from New York, so the couple decided to come east and rented an apartment in Jamaica, Queens, before eventually settling in Chappaqua to raise their two sons. Marvelle has remained in town for the past 46 years.

Marvelle said that her husband rarely talked of his military service or his experience at Pearl Harbor. But she believes he wanted her to find his account among his papers.

“He knew I would be looking in his desk,” she said. “There were several things there that were very important.”








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