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Bound for Pearl Harbor--Without the Machine Gun

December 05, 1991|AJOWA N. IFATEYO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 50 years, Melvin D. Hales kept the battered Japanese machine gun as his most prized memento of Pearl Harbor Day.

This week, the 82-year-old owner of the La Puente Lanes Bowling Center hoped to make it the center of attention when he flew to Hawaii to join the 50th anniversary commemoration of the bombing attack.

But Hales' plan went awry Tuesday, he said, when airline officials discouraged him from carrying the heavily damaged firearm aboard a plane.

Hales and his wife, Mondas, 78, left Tuesday morning to join their son on the island of Kaneohe. They plan to visit the Arizona Memorial and be among 2,000 Pearl Harbor survivors invited aboard the Battleship Missouri.

On Saturday, the Haleses will attend a ceremony set at the hour of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.

President Bush will speak at 7 a.m. to members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn. at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl. The President will also place a memorial wreath upon the Arizona, said Jim Harpster, coordinator of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Arizona Memorial.

Hales hoped to have the machine gun incorporated into the memorial. But when he phoned ahead to Delta Air Lines to be sure he could take it, he was told he would have to go through complicated procedures to obtain permission. So he decided to leave the weapon at home.

In any case, organizers had made no plans to use the gun as part of the official celebrations, Harpster said.

Hales said he was told that the machine gun, given to him by a Navy lieutenant, was taken from the first Japanese plane shot down. He said the Navy photographed the machine gun in 1941 and the gift to him was approved by an admiral, but the gun's authenticity could not be verified.

At the time of the attack, the Haleses were living in Pearl Harbor with their children: Melvin Jr., then 10, Carole, 8, and Robert, 4. Hales said he was working as a government contractor helping to build Navy housing, a job he had started in the spring of 1941.

Hales said he and his wife were eating breakfast at home near the harbor when they heard the commotion from approaching bombers. They noticed the red disk symbol on the Japanese planes, but they didn't realize immediately that it was an attack.

"When we saw the rising sun, we assumed they were maneuvers" from Hickam Field, which he said is next to Pearl Harbor.

"We were waving at them," said his wife, Mondas, who said they were not aware the planes were part of an attack until a neighbor told them she had heard it on the radio. She said they then hid in closets and behind couches to avoid bullets.

Robert Hales, who is a chiropractor in Kaneohe, had just celebrated his fourth birthday two days before the bombing. In a recent telephone interview, he said the attack was "the first thing I remember in my life." He had gotten a red tricycle for a birthday present and recalls trying to run back outside to get it off the sidewalk.

"My dad's my hero because he went to get it," he said.

The elder Hales, who visits the islands often, said the family loves Hawaii.

The people "have hearts as big as washtubs," he said.

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