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