Kailua resident James Claire Nolan kept a secret most of his life. A Navy pilot during World War II, he kept a detailed diary and drew pictures throughout the conflict, a practice frowned upon by security-minded authorities. When he died in the early 1990s, he entrusted the pages to his friend and military historian Burl Burlingame of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Burlingame is now Historian at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Trained as a navy bomber pilot, Nolan was rushed to the Dutch East Indies as war broke out and returned to Pearl Harbor, where he was pressed into service flying PBY “Catalina” flying boats on patrol.
Later, Nolan served with distinction at the battle of Midway, on Guadalcanal and became the personal pilot for Vice Adm. Aubrey Fitch. Nolan said his proudest moment came when in the summer of ’43 he discovered the slowly sinking bow of USS Helena, sheared off by a Japanese torpedo several days before and covered with desperate survivors. He stuck with the ship until help arrived.
After the war, Nolan joined the US Air Force and continued to fly. In civilian life, he was a historian at Hickam Air Force Base.
We are publishing these diary entries exactly 75 years to the day after these pages were written. Except for very minor spelling and grammatical updates, they are as written — including observations that may seem not “politically correct” these days. It is a look into the mindset of a young man fighting a war across a vast ocean.
This site will remain active for five years. It is sponsored by historical-interpretation company Pacific Monograph.