Lt. Col. Bernard “Bernie” Rubien was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 15, 1918. He was the older of two boys. Bernie enlisted in the US Army Air Corps on September 16, 1940.
His military locations in wartime include Kwaijalein Island, Marshall Islands; Saipan; Guan; and Hickam Field, Hilo, Hawaii. He also spent time in Sidi Slimane, Morrocco; Bellows Field; Fort Shafter; Earnest Harmon AFB; Newfoundland; Travis AFB, California; Altus, Oklahoma; March AFB, California; and Westover AFB, Massachusetts. While on Saipan he recalls “dodging bombs from regular airstrikes from the Japanese until the Marines captured Iwo Jima and put them out of business.”
Bernie has a very clear recollection of December 7, 1941. He was awakened out of a sound sleep from noises he believed were being made by the barracks drunk. He and his bunkmate ran outside in the buff to see what was causing the continued commotion. “This Japanese plane came through—it was like a scene from WWI—a two passenger plane—pilot and gunner sitting backwards with his hands on the machine gun, leather helmet, glasses. I never saw a plane go so low in my life. You could reach up and touch it and he was shooting at us. I remember the gunner’s face—I couldn’t tell if he was grinning or grimacing. We came within inches of getting popped off.”
Rubien ran back to the barracks and threw on a flight suit. He ran to his duty place in Headquarters 7th Air Force. Using a fireplace out in back, he helped burn classified documents. Then he went to the supply shack where he picked up a .45 gun belt and ammo. “The dangerous part that night was we weren’t infantry guys. We were mechanics, cooks, and clerks. It was pandemonium. In the confusion, guys were shooting at each other because they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. The next day, they put all of us headquarters guys in a truck and took us to a cave in the mountains—an emergency command post we never knew existed.”
This “temporary office space” was located above Hickam Field. The men slept on canvas cots in the cave where telegrams were typed and dispatched. “That’s how they communicated. I couldn’t get in touch with my family. They thought I was dead.” He was finally allowed to send this six-word cable: “Don’t worry, I’m safe. Not hurt.” Several bombers were wrecked or damaged in that attack on Hickam Field. That day the airfield alone lost 189 guys and 303 were wounded.
During his 25-year career in the service, Rubien received the Air Force commendation medal with two oak leaf clusters. He was awarded numerous service ribbons as well. He was discharged as a Lieutenant Colonel on October 31, 1968. Bernie and Yeonna, his wife of 58 years, married on January 19, 1947. They had one boy and five girls, including a set of twins. Their middle daughter was the only one to be born on an Air Force base. Bernie currently resides in Rancho Mirage, California. Four of his kids also live in California. He has nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. His philosophy regarding living a long life is simple: “You’ve got to have lost of birthdays.”
Submitted by Barbara Pendergast and published in Pearl Harbor Remembered, Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of December 7, 1941 with the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, Inc., M.T. Publishing Company, Inc., 2016.