A bum rap for Pearl Harbor radar man Joe Lockard

When I was working on my story for The Morning Call about the Allentown reunion of Joe Lockard and two other Pearl Harbor radar men, one of my references was Gordon W. Prange’s monumental book At Dawn We Slept.

Prange made a critical comment about Lockard that doesn’t sit right with me.

Lockard and a new member of the Aircraft Warning Service, George Elliott, were working at the Opana mobile radar station on the northern tip of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941, when their oscilloscope showed a huge blip rapidly approaching. They called in to the information center at Fort Shafter, which linked the five radar sites across the island, and reported what they were seeing.

After Elliott spoke with switchboard operator Joseph McDonald, Lockard spoke with the only officer on duty, Lt. Kermit Tyler. Lockard, a Williamsport native who’s now 89 and living near Harrisburg, told me: “I tried to convey my excitement that we had never seen anything like this on radar, and that it obviously had to be planes.”

Tyler’s answer: “Don’t worry about it.”

He couldn’t imagine that the blip was showing enemy aircraft, Prange wrote. Tyler believed the Opana radar had picked up a flight of B-17 bombers due in from the mainland.

Prange faulted Lockard. He said the private made “one big mistake” by not  saying the sighting showed more than 50 planes. If he had, Prange wrote, Tyler would have realized the planes being tracked were not B-17s, because more than 50 of the bombers would have been a large chunk of the U.S. inventory of B-17s, an unlikely scenario.

Prange’s massive work was authoritative. He researched Pearl Harbor for 37 years before his book was published posthumously in 1981. Last year, his criticism of Lockard re-emerged in The New York Times obituary for Tyler, who died at age 96.

So I pressed Lockard on his reaction to the blip. He said he “didn’t have any idea how many planes” it represented, only that he “had never seen any kind of response on the equipment that was so large.”

In other words, in his phone chat with Tyler, Lockard didn’t say what he didn’t know.

Let’s forget about the numbers. Even if Lockard knew there were more than 50 planes and failed to mention that, it’s not fair to pin this rap on him.

Though only 19 and a private, he was a trained radar man. He checked the equipment when he first saw the unusual blip and found the gear working properly.

From what I’ve read, Tyler didn’t ask him outright: “How many planes do you think are out there?” Instead, he just dismissed the sighting.

If you were in Tyler’s place, wouldn’t you be concerned if someone were telling you in an urgent voice that the scope had never lit up like this before? Wouldn’t that make you uneasy?

It gave McDonald, the switchboard operator, a chill. The private from Lackawanna County went back to his tent and woke up his buddy Dick Schimmel from Allentown, saying: “Hey Shim, the Japs are coming.” Minutes later, Japanese bombs started falling on the harbor.

You have to wonder why Tyler didn’t make the same connection. With the radar unable to tell friend from foe, how could he be sure those planes on the Opana scope were our own bombers? That’s the bottom line, don’t you think? How could he be sure?

He couldn’t.

Despite what Prange had to say, there’s no case against Lockard.

10 responses to “A bum rap for Pearl Harbor radar man Joe Lockard

  1. During the week of December 5th, I watched at least two documentaries about Pearl Harbor. Not one of these shows, nor any other that I’ve watched over the years, mentions the story about Mr. Lockard’s radar observations and his brief conversation with then Lt. Tyler. The fact that Lt. Tyler did not take Lockard’s comments seriously enough to at least investigate the potential threat, in my mind, was obviously a case of deretiction of duty.

    • 1. Radar was new.
      2. Who thought Pearl would be attacked?
      3. No alert after submarine was attacked either.
      4. Learn how to spell and don’t be an armchair quarterback 70 years later.

  2. A Lieutenant always outranks a Private – simply put: one’s in charge, the other’s not. End of that story.

  3. Tyler’s account has been used primarily by historians. The truth is that Tyler was protected by the military for his mistake.
    According to his own testimony he was not posted that b17’s were coming in.It was an educated guess that it was b17’s because the radio station played all night.
    Lockard,Elliott , and McDonald’s versions of this event have been muted.

    The National Park Service in Hawaii have Tyler almost a hero of Pearl Harbor.They would only share Tyler’s account and invite him alone to their seminars.Why did they not invite Joe Lockard for a balanced perspective of the Opana Radar incident ?

    It kind of makes you wonder if they care that history is accurate.
    The true heroes of the Opana Radar story are the three Privates who tried to have the large radar return checked out.
    They tried to do something that fateful morning.

    George McDonald
    Proudly the son of Pvt Joseph McDonald

  4. Joe was a friend and professional colleague of mine. He had ABSOLUTELY no time for Tyler’s story. “That business about the B-17’s came later.” I have Joe on both video and audio where he becomes quite upset and responds to

    my recitation from several passages in “At Dawn We Slept”. “None of those people ever talked to me.” He was referring to both the authors and the Hollywood niche of “Tora, Tora, Tora”-

    Private, General, Admiral or anything in-between Joe Lockard was a brilliant man. An OBJECTIVE scientist, historian, artist, philosopher and prolific inventor. The US Army must have seen that in even a very young Joseph L. Lockard. They unfortunately didn’t really follow-through with that insight in their later defense of him.

    John Miller
    Liverpool, PA

  5. Hello webmaster do you need unlimited articles
    for your blog ? What if you could copy article from other blogs, make it pass copyscape test and publish on your site
    – i know the right tool for you, just search in google:

    Loimqua’s article tool

  6. Impressed ’cause i’m a Lockard.

  7. Phil Nothstein

    Incoming US aircraft flew in south of Dimond Head. The north radar pointed north not east. That’s why there are five stations. Tyler should have known that.

  8. I am quite familiar with military cover-ups from the Vietnam Era. Westmoreland used to do it all the time for “morale” purposes. The truth is never quite as pleasant as the smoothing over of the truth for later consumption. Tyler had to live with his “mistake” for the rest of his life. The Air Force, like Westmoreland, covered it up for morale purposes. The lives of hundreds might have been saved; but that is Monday armchair quarterbacking, as one incisive observer has noted. I am sure Lt. Tyler felt bad enough about what happened.

    Former US Spec 4
    Arthur H Tafero
    Currently Visiting Professor in China

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s