As chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Daniel Martinez (Class of ’81, B.A., history) oversees the interpretation of the attack by the Japanese that ignited United States involvement in World War II. As such, the Los Angeles native often has an opportunity to uncover layers of lost history and personal testimony that complete the story.
“One of the great myths about Pearl Harbor is that it was solely an attack on [the base],” says Martinez. “Rather, it was a comprehensive strike on all military installations, primarily the airfields throughout the island. In order for the Japanese attack to be successful, they had to take out our airfields so that we couldn’t respond.”
Martinez says that another seldom recognized aspect of the story is the number of dead and wounded in the areas surrounding the attack, beyond the military facilities.
“The civilian population was affected in Honolulu; 49 were killed,” he says. “Many were affected by friendly fire. And of course, you had airmen and pilots killed at the airfield. That adds to the 2,390 that made up the casualties for that day.”
In addition to several events leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks on Dec. 7, Martinez is organizing a 70th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Attack Symposium on Dec. 2-5 at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument located at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The already sold-out event will include a premier of the History Channel’s documentary, “Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After,” and tours of the attack sites and historic boats. Subsequent commemorative events will be held on Dec. 7-8 at the Monument and related sites.
In addition to renowned historians and authors from Japan and the United States, Martinez has invited a number of military and civilians survivors of the attacks to share their experiences at the Symposium. The value he attaches to such personal histories stems from his experience as an undergraduate at CSU Dominguez Hills when he interviewed his maternal grandfather about the events of Dec. 7, 1941 for a course on oral histories taught by Judson Grenier, emeritus professor of history.
“My grandfather, Harlan Gray, was a miner and a Navy federal worker,” says Martinez. “He was a foreman for the famous Red Hill project, which were underground storage tanks for fuel that are still used today. That morning, he was just getting off work at Pearl Harbor.
“It was normal for the foreman to meet the foreman coming on the next shift to talk about what had transpired the day before. It was during those discussions that the planes flew over my grandfather’s head at 100 feet. Those were the torpedo planes headed for Battleship Row. At first, they thought it was a drill. Then when the explosion occurred and the insignia of Japan was noted on the aircraft, my grandfather said something to the effect that ‘It’s war!’ yelling to his workers as they began to take cover.”
Martinez recalls that his grandfather interrupted the interview several times, as overcome with emotion, he had to step away for a few minutes.
“My grandfather survived but witnessed this horrifying thing, the explosion of the USS Arizona,” says Martinez. “The workers were kept on duty. When the raid, which lasted two hours, was over, they had the unenviable job to go out on boats to retrieve the dead out of the water. Those bodies were laid out on a narrow pier called Aiea Landing to be identified. He said… that he never got over how young the faces were.
“During that interview, my grandfather got up and walked away from the recording four times, and I couldn’t understand why that was happening,” says Martinez. “Later when I became a historian for the National Park Service at the USS Arizona Memorial, that also occurred with other [interviewees]. The experience of recording [these experiences] showed what pain was in their hearts and how difficult it was to recall these memories. I found out that my grandfather had never been asked in detail what happened. And, that was true of the [survivors] that I would interview. I soon learned that these oral histories were very private moments and generally not disclosed to family members. I recall the emotions of grown men and women who were in their 60s, weeping.”
Martinez’s family history in the midst of WWII also extends to his father’s side. He says that his parents met in Lone Pine, Calif., where Gray had sent his family in order to protect them from the dangers of the war in Hawaii; he joined them after the Red Hill project was completed in 1944.
“My father lived in a barrio called Owenyo, and he went to Lone Pine High School,” says Martinez. “Just 13 miles away was Manzanar. My father remembers going to look at the camp with his friends, all Mexican kids, he was about 14 at the time. The guards pointed their bayonets at them. They never forgot that. They saw all these Japanese American people behind the barbed wire; they couldn’t understand what that was.”
Martinez says that Donald Hata and Howard Holter, now emeritus professors of history, advised him to minor in communications and that his education prepared him with the ability to gather and present information that provides an ever-evolving history of Pearl Harbor and related sites. He has been interviewed and guided viewers through numerous programs the History Channel, the Military Channel, the Travel Channel, and even the Food Network. Martinez is featured in “Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After,” which will air nationally on Dec. 7, and will will also appear on “Dan Rather Reports on Dec. 6.
“Having my minor in communications… enabled me to have the skill sets to not only speak but also demonstrate history,” says Martinez, who hosted the Discovery Channel’s “Unsolved History” from 2002 to 2005.
Martinez began his career with the National Park Service while still attending CSU Dominguez Hills, as a seasonal park ranger at the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Mont. When a position opened up at the USS Arizona Memorial in 1985, he jumped at the opportunity. He started out as a law enforcement ranger/interpreter.
“The only way I was going to get into the National Park Service [permanently] was to be versatile,” says Martinez. “I started at the Memorial as a law enforcement ranger/interpreter for four years. Then I became the interpretive specialist and in 1989, I became the first historian. The position was created then, two years prior to the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.”
Martinez says that he was “very, very lucky to enroll at Dominguez Hills.” Having completed his associate of arts degree at El Camino College, the Los Angeles native immediately began working in a business-related field. However, he soon realized that higher education would be more fulfilling and returned to college at 27.
“I think I grew up and realized that my future was to continue my education,” he says. “The professors in the history department were extraordinary people. I was very fortunate to have key advisors like Dr. Hata, Dr. Holter, and Dr. Grenier. Those three individuals shaped my education and gave me the tools to be successful and at least, significant in my field. They went beyond being professors. They counseled, they criticized, they encouraged. They treated not only me but my fellow students like that, and gave us an opportunity to succeed. I got a private education at a public university.”