When remembering and retelling the story of World War II and the destruction of Pearl Harbor, Americans tend to forget that Hawaii wasn't even a state at the time. It was, to paraphrase a great account of the attack, essentially a colonial pineapple plantation / naval base. The weather was probably as much of a draw as it is today, but in 1941 Hawaii must have felt considerably more…backwater-ish. Located in the literal middle of nowhere before the days of rapid, safe, affordable air travel, when the natural splendor and nice weather wore off the American transplants in Hawaii must have found themselves with little entertainment beyond what they created.

A mainland American lawyer named Ray Buduick filled his spare time by restoring and flying a private plane – the flimsy, open, Red Baron type that was still popular at the time. One Sunday morning near Christmas in 1941, Ray and his teenage son took off a little after 7 AM to kill some time with an aimless flight around Oahu with the airspace all to himself. I can see the appeal of that, certainly. After straying farther out over the Pacific he was surprised to see in the great distance what appeared to be other airplanes. A lot of them. He was curious and flew toward them until it was unmistakable that not only were they airplanes but hundreds of them. No sooner had he and his son realized this that they heard strange sounds like something was whipping past their tiny plane at high speed. That mystery solved itself in short order when several bullets struck their right wing.

Turned out that random lawyer Ray Buduick and his teenage son Martin had, quite without meaning to, entered the United States into World War II.

They had stumbled upon a gaggle of Japanese fighters loitering over the ocean as they waited for the larger, slower bombers in the attack squadron to catch up. As they turned toward Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, Buduick took a perpendicular route away from the attacking planes and hoped that none of the Japanese would bother to break away and follow him. Then, with the attack in progress, they circled back and somehow landed their damaged POS safely.

It might not be technically correct to say that Ray Buduick started the Pacific War, but since I assume that any heirs who could sue me for libel have passed on or do not read things called Gin & Tacos let's be real clear: Ray Buduick totally started the war. Alright, perhaps it is more fair to say that while he may not have started it in the geopolitical sense, he was the first American to come under attack from Imperial Japan, all because he decided to take up flying rather than, say, woodworking. It wouldn't have been exciting but at least he wouldn't have been shot at by Japanese fighter planes for building a credenza in his garage.

24 thoughts on “NPF: TORA! TORA! RAY?”

  • A Different Nate says:

    Great stuff, Ed. I love these kinds of historical sidenotes, like the last defenders of Berlin in WW2 being mostly French.

    One of my favorite genres is alternate history, stories that deal in the what-ifs of history. Some years ago I read a story about an alternate Pearl Harbor scenario where a more proactive base commander or something resulted in a patrol encountering the Japanese some distance into the ocean and the whole thing being a fleet engagement rather than a sucker punch. Without a crystallizing event to help pull the country into the war (and there was, in fact, a solid anti-war movement even In the real world), American involvement was more tepid, meaning no island hopping campaign and the Pacific War ending more inconclusively.

  • My choice for Pearl Harbor story was the Niihau Incident – a damaged Zero crashed on a far out island, run as a Hawai'ian culture preserve, and the pilot teamed up with the few Japanese locals to take the guns and seize the island. While half the Hawai'ians rowed through the night to get help the other half killed the Japanese with their bare hands. Goddamn ridiculous and gives you a sense where internment came from.

    (My favorite Japanese-attack-on-America story is Nobuo Fujita, who conducted the only stateside bombing raid and ended up being feted by his Oregon target as their biggest claim on posterity.)

  • To be sure, Japanese planes attacked an American gunboat somewhere in Chinese waters around 1937. Don't remember the exact date I'm afraid.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    I don't think your main concern here is libel, but rather the chance of Jim Inhofe (R-OK) (presumably a regular reader) getting inspired to take a drunken cruise around Iranian airspace.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    If only he had a radio to call the base, he might have saved countless lives.

    Woulda, coulda, shoulda…

  • schmitt trigger says:

    Indeed, there are all these fascinating historical sidenotes.

    For instance, the History Channel presented that towards the end of WW1, one German Army corporal became disoriented during a major British counteroffensive -I believe it was in the Somme.

    An advancing British soldier saw him, but noticing the Adolf Hitler did not have a gun -he was a courier at the time, decided not to shoot him.

  • Pearl Harbor was thought to be too shallow for a successful torpedo attack from the air, Taranto should have put them on alert.

  • Steve in the ATL says:

    I was taught in law school that you can't defame the dead. Of course, I went to law school at Georgia so do your own due diligence.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Something like 80% of the country was against entering the war before December 7th.

    Most of it was stunned that correctly, we went after Hitler first.

  • I happened across an amusing little book at the library once. It was a compilation of isolationist speeches given in Congress between the start of WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Gives a contemporary view of what FDR and the Anglophiles were up against.

    More recently, "Those Angry Days" has covered the same period with a focus on FDR vs Lindbergh. There were so many British and German spies in the U.S. at that point, all trying to finagle American support or neutrality, it boggled my mind. As it turned out, the infamous German-American Bund did not actually help the Germans in any way – in fact, that rally at Madison Square Garden harmed the idea of isolationism. They did Nazi that coming.

  • I don't think you can charge Ray Buduick with starting the war. It would be a little more plausible if he had a rifle in his plane to shoot wolves with and had fired at the Japanese, but even then …

    I've long blamed Dean Acheson for starting the war. When Roosevelt and Cordell Hull decided to impose sanctions on Japan in 1941 it was Acheson, then a desk officer in the state department, who interpreted their policy to include a complete cut-off of Indonesian petroleum. That was the stray that broke the camel's back, as it were. That was the step that made the sanctions an existential threat and left the Japanese with the binary choice, complete surrender or war and hope for a reasonable settlement when they (inevitably) lost. Of course they were completely blindsided by the American reaction. They thought it would be like the Russian reaction to the similar attack on Port Arthur.

  • TPTB in the US wanted into the war, but had opposition at home. Just as prior to 9-11, the US had been warned repeatedly of an attack on Pearl. Military strategists also knew that the day of naval ship battles was winding down and the day of air warfare had already dawned. Odd then that all our battleships and destroyers were lined up like sitting ducks at Pearl — and all of our carriers were far away.

  • Arslan, I think you are remembering the USS Panay that was attacked in the Yangtze River near nanking in December of 1937.

  • Jerney Princip says:

    I love the story even if it's not true. My family has always claimed that we started WWII through an even weirder set of circumstances (and about 25 years after the fact of my great-great-great uncle's little exploit in Sarajevo) than your fable, but I'll grant you your fun.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Interesting thing about Hawaii…it was much closer to Japan than California, it had a much higher proportion of citizens of Japanese extraction, and it was subjected to direct air attack, but no Hawaiians were locked up in concentration camps.

    Gee, that couldn't have had anything to do with local politics in Hawaii vs. California, could it?

  • Tim H. Says:

    "Pearl Harbor was thought to be too shallow for a successful torpedo attack from the air, Taranto should have put them on alert."

    That, and Japan had only developed the doctrine and ability to conduct mass carrier attacks in that year (the US didn't match the size of that attack for years!). Also, the conventional thinking was that Japan would attack the Philippines first (and likely take it).

  • There was a lot of paranoia on the west coast in the late 30s and early 40s. Everyone expected an attack from Europe, but the west coast was worried about a 50,000 man Japanese fifth column army ready for orders to attack. Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but a lot of contemporaries were surprised that a coordinated attack by the above mentioned army never appeared.

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