World War II veteran Taylor Koonce cherishes the letter his family received from family in Pearl Harbor. (WDN Photo/Mona Moore)

Archived Story

Family letter personalizes Dec. 7 attack 71 years later

Published 9:48pm Thursday, December 6, 2012

For Beaufort County resident Taylor Koonce, the annual anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor has special meaning because some of his family members were there when the attack occurred.
Koonce, in his 80s, had two uncles working and living in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Those uncles, who grew up in the River Acres area of Beaufort County, had wives and children with them.
A letter written by one of those uncles mentions the attack.
The letter was written by William Whiting McIlhenny II, one of Koonce’s uncles on his mother’s side of the family. McIlhenny and his brother Harry were graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy. W.W. McIlhenny left the Navy, becoming an engineer at the shipyards in Pearl Harbor. Harry McIlhenny was on active duty.
The letter was sent from Pearl Harbor the day after the attack.
“He slipped the letter in a diplomatic pouch coming back to Washington, D.C. I’ve got that letter,” Koonce said.
The letter made its way to a family member living in the Washington, D.C., area. Eventually, Koonce gained ownership of the letter.
“Civilians who were there were shipped out the next day, including my two aunts and all their children,” Koonce said. Those family members came to Beaufort County, according to Koonce, except for one who moved to Rhode Island.
The letter’s message, in part, follows.
“Dear Margaret,
The ‘Luck of the Irish’ always holds good even when the ‘Banshees Wail.’ Harry, Toot and family are all well as well as Virginia, Bunky and Johnny. My tribe inherit from their paternal grandmother that wonderful quality of not getting excited or worried even under the most trying circumstances, and Bunky was the only one that had his mother worried because he was not collecting ‘falling souvenirs.’ I was in the yard. However we don’t expect ‘them’ back. It was quite exciting. ‘Damn their eyes.’
The mails are a bit irregular so we haven’t sent in our “all clear” to all hands but suppose than you know by this time that the McIlhennys of Hawaii are all safe and sound and have dug in with the grim determination to ‘see it through and give them hell.’
Harry had the duty from 12:00 noon Dec. 5 to 12:00 noon Dec. 7 and when I arrived at 8:05 Sunday morning he was a busy but cool Lt. Comdr. McIlhenny and I was mighty proud to be his brother. Virginia was the ‘cheerful (illegible) ‘ variety — I hadn’t seen her from 8:00 o’clock until seven. She was right glad to see me.”
(Other parts of the letter were smudged, making it difficult to decipher.)
The letter notes that Bunky found a cylinder from one of the Japanese planes shot down during the attack. He planned to donate it to the Bughouse museum in Washington.

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