Hawaii’s Women War Correspondents

WWII Hawaii Photographer Laurie Johnston
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WWII Hawaii Photographer Laurie Johnston

On April 27, 2001, the Hawaii Reporter ran a special commentary about what happened at The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on the morning of December 7, 1941 and the following morning at the Advertiser. It’s an interesting piece on the why, how and what information was printed that weekend.

This column will focus on the newspaper women of World War II Hawaii.


The Honolulu Advertiser did not print a paper on December 7, 1941. By 6 a.m. the phones were ringing off the hook with customers complaining that they didn’t receive their newspapers.

At 6:45 a.m. Bill Schiller, an assistant circulation manager, called Elaine Fogg Stroup to come in to work. Fogg Stroup was working in the circulation department in the clerical unit.

When she got to the Advertiser building, three musicians from the KGU radio station, which was located on the third floor, rushed by her to leave. When Fogg Stroup asked what was going on they told her, “Something’s going on at Pearl.”

As soon as she got to the office, she and Bill Schiller headed for the roof of the building to get a look. Fogg Stroup recalls, “Great billows of oily black smoke were rising and spreading out over Pearl Harbor. There were planes darting in all directions and guns near the Punchbowl had begun, all adding to the improbably scenario.”

At first most of the people on the rooftop assumed that it was an unusually realistic alert. Then, Marion Mulroney, the KGU manager climbed up the 10-foot radio tower on the roof to get a better look. Fogg Stroup wrote, “While Mr. Mulroney was climbing the tower and the rest of us were deciding if it were a drill, a shell shattered a cement wall at the rear of the building giving all of us quite the shake and Mr. Mulroney made a rapid descent from the tower.”

Irva Colla, another Advertiser employee, was on the roof that morning, too. She remembers, “Once we realized were being attacked . . . people said we should go down to the basement for safety, but I wouldn’t go. The basement was where we kept the huge rolls of newsprint and I could imagine if a bomb struck those rolls they would crush us. I sat on the stairs on the first floor for while, then decided to go up to the second floor and get back to work.”

Bill Schiller knew this was a big story. Elaine Fogg Stroup was assigned to the news desk, right along with her was Irva Edwards*, a proofreader from the commercial printing department. Fogg Stroup recalls, “Neither of us belonged at the news desk but the regular Sunday staff wasn’t due in for several hours. . . So, there we were; it was our maiden thrust into the news department that was to last for several months.”

Irva Edwards edited five editions that day. After the war she became the editor of the Sunday Advertiser magazine. She stayed with the paper until her retirement in 1977

A few hours after the first attack, Schiller sent Fogg Stroup to Iolani Palace to pick up a copy of the martial law proclamation that was signed by Governor Poindexter. “I was at the palace when . . . everything shook as a shell gouged out a crater in the mauka-Waikiki corner of the palace ground [where the State Archives Building now stands].” Fogg Stroup ran outside and to have a look and “I picked up a few pieces of shrapnel still so hot, that they had to be tossed from one palm to another.”

When she got back to the paper, Fogg Stroup and LaSelle Gilman were sent out to Pearl Harbor. The car they were given had a sticker on it and they got on base during the final attack.

She and Gilman took notes and photos but when they got back to the Advertiser, they found out there was no way of printing their stories. The Honolulu Advertiser presses were down.

The first newspaper of the war that the Advertiser put out was on December 8, 1941. It ran the unfortunate headlines “Saboteurs Land Here” and “Raiders Return in Dawn Attack.” Both of these stories were false rumors.

By the time Fogg Stroup’s article was to be printed, the Territory of Hawaii’s newspapers were under severe censorship. Elaine Fogg Stroup was forced to delete any references to what she saw at Pearl Harbor or report any military loss of life or injury. “It was the biggest story of my life and I could only write about what happened on the way there and back.”

However, some censorship of newspapers was self-imposed. When City Editor Trumbull reviewed the pictures that were shot by staff photographers he recalls, “Then I realized that for the first time, here in Hawaii, I was looking at pictures of civilian wartime casualties. Of course, we didn’t print them. We couldn’t print them. Some were terrible shots of people maimed and disemboweled. . . . for me, looking at those photos, I knew we were at war.”

One of the best reporters on the Advertiser staff was Laurie Johnston. After the war broke out, Johnston not only worked for the Advertiser, but also served as a correspondent for the British news agency Reuters. In fact, Laurie Johnston was one of the few women journalists in the Pacific who was accredited by both the Army and the Navy.

After the war Johnston joined Newsweek magazine then later went on board with the New York Times as a reporter and feature writer. In 1980 Johnston was awarded the Meyer Berger Award. Laurie Johnston died in Honolulu in 2001 at the age of 87. (Author’s note: I have tried to determine if Irva Colla and Irva Edwards are the same person without success.)

To get an in-depth story of the newspapers of Hawaii, read “Presstime in Paradise” by George Chapin (University of Hawaii Press). The chapter, “Something’s going on at Pearl Harbor” deals with the war years.

Note: In the excitement the Maui News forgot to change Saturday’s date. Their first war extra was dated December 6, 1941.

Dorothea “Dee” Buckingham is a retired librarian and author of several books including “My Name is Loa”, a historical novel set on Molokai at the Leprosy Settlement in 1898. Her self-described obsession is researching the daily lives of women living on Oahu during World War II. Have a story to share with her? Reach her at dee.buckingham@gmail.com