Sunday, December 7, 2003

62 years ago, young family barely escaped Japanese

Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

At dawn on Dec. 7, 1941, he slept through Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dr. Michael Kreindler could be excused. He was just four days old.

Sitting in his North College Hill office, the 62-year-old allergist reflected on his status as one of the youngest survivors of the infamous attack.

"I made it," he said and smiled, "even though I was asleep.

"But they didn't give me a medal. That went to my dad."

His Army veteran father, Dr. Louis Kreindler, died in 1992. The medal now belongs to the younger Dr. Kreindler. Looking at the piece of metal reminds him of his father.

"But I have no memories of that day."

His 84-year-old mother does.

Katherine Kreindler of Kennedy Heights clearly remembers the low-flying planes. Their engines rattled her room in the army hospital at Schofield Barracks where she had given birth to Michael.

She saw little puffs of dust rise from the hospital's lawn and heard distant explosions in the direction of Pearl Harbor, 17 miles away.

At the time, she did not know that those were enemy planes. Or that the puffs of dust came from Japanese machine guns as they strafed the hospital grounds. Or that the explosions in the distance came from battleships being blown to bits.

"We thought those were our planes practicing," she said.

As the attack began, Michael's father was on his way to visit his wife and son. Japanese fighter planes spotted his Jeep and sprayed it with machine gun fire.

They got the Jeep. But missed the doctor.

"He had the Jeep's windshield folded down," Katherine said. "The bullets hit the windshield's frame."

When the doctor arrived at the hospital, his wife was surprised to see him in uniform.

"It's Sunday," she said. "We're not at war."

He husband told her "the planes that flew over the hospital were Japanese. We're at war."

And she was leaving the hospital. Now. Grab the baby.

He placed them in an Army truck. Authorities feared another attack. Women and children were being evacuated to Pearl Harbor.

The stricken naval base was a mass of flames and suffering.

"All we could see and smell," she said, "were the ships on fire."

Her husband spent the day in an ambulance "picking up the dead and wounded."

No one will ever know the horrors he witnessed. Dr. Kreindler never talked about Dec. 7, 1941.

One image, though, remains with his widow. As he whisked her out of the hospital, she held their son. She remembered how happy they were when he was born.

Just outside the hospital's doors, they passed a horrible sight. Row upon row of bodies covered with sheets.

The stark contrast stunned her. There, in her arms, was this new life, just beginning, just days old. On the ground were so many lives cut so tragically short.

She walked on and clung to her baby boy even tighter.


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