William E. Hutchinson, Stymied Newspaper Editor During Pearl Harbor Attack

"Here was unquestionably the biggest story of our lives . . . but there was no way to print anything," recalled William Hutchinson, right.
"Here was unquestionably the biggest story of our lives . . . but there was no way to print anything," recalled William Hutchinson, right. (Courtesy Of The Honolulu Advertiser)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 5, 2009

William E. Hutchinson, 92, a retired Foreign Service officer who was a Honolulu newspaper editor when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, died of bladder cancer June 20 at his home in Gaithersburg.

Mr. Hutchinson was a news editor at the Honolulu Advertiser when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The competing newspaper, the Star-Bulletin, rushed out three extra editions on the day of infamy, but the Advertiser's press was silent because of a broken gear. The local Japanese-language newspaper offered to let the Advertiser use its presses, according to Mr. Hutchinson's unpublished memoirs, but "in the frantic and mistrustful times of this crisis," either the publisher or editor rejected the idea of relying on Japanese-related resources, he wrote.

"We all felt pretty hopeless and frustrated," Mr. Hutchinson told former Advertiser editor George Chaplin for his book, "Presstime in Paradise" (1998). "Here was unquestionably the biggest story of our lives breaking all around us. We kept writing and editing copy for an extra, but there was no way to print anything."

They didn't get a paper out until Monday, Dec. 8 -- and maybe they should have waited.

In one of the biggest front-page goofs of the era, the Advertiser relied on an unidentified, and unreliable, Army source to splash across the top third of the page, "SABOTEURS LAND HERE!" The story said invaders with red disks on their shoulders had landed and renewed bombing attacks on Oahu and that anti-aircraft fire was coming from Hickam Field. The error prompted the Army to tell the editors that if there was a repetition of such an inflammatory mistake, the paper would be shut down.

Mr. Hutchinson's grandson said he never talked about that episode, although he talked often of the staff's strenuous efforts to publish the paper in the week after the attack. He said that he didn't get home for four days.

Mr. Hutchinson stuck with the Advertiser until late 1944, occasionally serving as a war correspondent for the Overseas News Agency and the United Press wire service. He was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services and sent to Calcutta, India, to work with members of resistance movements in Burma, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. At war's end, he joined Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters command in Tokyo, editing the general's monthly reports on nonmilitary activities during the occupation of Japan until 1952. He also was the top editor of the official Army history of nonmilitary activities during the occupation.

When he joined the U.S. Information Agency in 1952, he was sent to Tokyo as publications officer for two years, then moved to Washington, where he eventually became deputy director of the organization's international press service. He worked in Pakistan, Libya and Nigeria; became the USIA's inspector general; and in 1970, when President Richard Nixon began planning his overture to China, was sent to Hong Kong to head the USIA's office there. He retired in 1973 and returned to the Washington area.

Mr. Hutchinson was born March 3, 1917, in Melrose, Mass. He worked for the Boston Evening Transcript as a youth before moving to Hawaii in 1933. His Honolulu editor, Chaplin, described Mr. Hutchinson as "an excellent deskman and probably one of the few anywhere to use a slide rule when making a Page One layout of where stories and photos should be placed." He designed several front pages that warned of growing tensions between Japan and the United States, including the Nov. 30, 1941, page that reflected a wire service report speculating that the Japanese might strike somewhere in the next week.

In retirement, he wrote his memoirs and several papers on local history and helped prepare a history of Gaithersburg. He was president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in the early 1980s and enjoyed hiking on that trail. He also enjoyed hiking trips in the United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, Costa Rica and Eastern Europe.

His first wife, Jean Helen Meyasaki, died in 1939.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Kimiyo Funamori Hutchinson of Gaithersburg; a daughter from his first marriage, Pamela Murphy of Okmulgee, Okla.; three children from his second marriage, William E. Hutchinson III of Junction City, Kan., Penelope Cochran of Germantown and Harvey A. Hutchinson II of Mobile, Ala.; 16 grandchildren; and 35 great-grandchildren.

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