Seaman Second Class Ernest Keaouli Sur
- Unit: USS YP-345
- Service Number: 4381114
- Date of Birth: January 3, 1921
- Entered the Military: August 8, 1942
- Date of Death: November 1, 1943
- Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
- Place of Death: Pacific Ocean, northeast of Laysan Island, Hawai'ian Islands
- Award(s): Purple Heart
- Cemetery: Courts of the Missing, Court Two. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
Mentored by Ms. Charlie Buenafe
Mililani High School
Family and the Big Island of Hawaiʻi
Ernest Keaouli Sur was born in Kaumalumalu, North Kona, in the territory of Hawaiʻi on January 3, 1921.
His mother, Mary Kahinano (Haaheo) Cleveland, was born in 1903. Her parents were of Hawaian and Korean descent. 1903 marked the year that the first Korean laborers arrived in Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) arranged for Korean laborers to replace Japanese laborers on strike. His Korean-born father, Sung Bac Sur, most likely labored on one of the plantations on the island of Hawaiʻi and was one of the original Koreans to come to the plantations.
The youngest of three, Sur had two elder brothers, William Sur and James Bac. Their father, Sung Bac Sur, passed away when the boys were children.
Life on Oahu and School Years
In his youth, Sur, known as Ernest Cleveland, moved to Honolulu and attended Likelike School for elementary school. He also attended middle school at Kalakaua Intermediate School up to the eighth grade. After school, Sur lived with his mother. Records reveal that he got into a little trouble at 18 for receiving stolen goods.
Life after School Before Service
By 1941, Ernest had moved to the predominantly Mormon community of Laie on Oahu, where he was a member of the church.
Bombing of Oahu
On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaiʻi using their Imperial Japanese Navy and Air forces. Two waves of Japanese aircraft attacked various military targets on the island starting at 7:55 in the morning. Japanese aircraft destroyed equipment, vehicles, and facilities on Schofield Army Barracks, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, Wheeler Army Airfield, and Hickam Airforce Base. Aircraft bombed planes parked wingtip to wingtip on Ford Island and the Naval ships on “Battleship Row.”
Residents in neighborhoods around the military installations witnessed shells exploding in the streets while seeking shelter. As the U.S. military responded with anti-aircraft shelling, many shells did not detonate in the air and fell into the streets and hurt civilians in the area. These explosions killed at least 57 civilians and started three significant fires in Honolulu alone. Service casualties included 2,117 killed, 779 injured in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and about 696 U.S. Army personnel killed.
Two hours after the attack began, Governor Pointdexter announced over the radio that Hawaiʻi would go into an emergency martial law, known as the M-day Act. Then the U.S. Army shut down the radio for fear of radio waves being used to coordinate attacks. All civilian dependents were evacuated from all military installations during this time, as well as the round-up of “enemy agents and suspicious characters,” namely those of Japanese ancestry or Japanese descent. This unofficially began the internment of Japanese Americans in Hawaiʻi before the release of Executive Order 9066, on February 19, 1942, and Executive Order 9102, on March 18, 1942.
Following the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt petitioned the U.S. Congress, which declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941.
Life Under Martial Law
With martial law established, military governor General Short assumed comprehensive executive, legislative, and judicial power, making his actions unchallengeable. Unsatisfied with the current state of martial law, General Short ordered a statewide blackout. A strict 6:00 p.m. curfew went into effect in the following weeks, and Short blocked civilian vehicle access to the highway. Under martial law, schools and roads closed, citizens had to ration food, drinks, and gasoline, the military government suspended civil courts and habeas corpus, and curfews remained in place.
Hawaiʻi’s civilians and other federal government agencies filed complaints about the legality of martial law. However, the U.S. Army kept tight control of civilians until after the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Joining the Hawaiʻi’s ‘Home Guard’
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiʻi governor called to order and organized the Territorial Guard to secure the state. The guard doubled in size by December 8. Sur and other citizens joined the Home Guard to protect public buildings and other areas throughout the city day and night. After completing his training, Sur began his service as part of the 299th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Company E. He lived at the National Guard Armory located in Wahiawa and helped to guard Hawaiʻi’s Kaneohe Bay Hospital for the next seven months.
Task Force 4 Assigned to Protect Hawaiian Island Chain
Months earlier, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific fleet addressed the Japanese’s threat of occupation of the islands in the area. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz created Task Force (TP) 4, composed of YP class ships (yard patrol craft) to patrol the entire Hawaiian Islands chain. For YP class ships, the U.S. Navy requisitioned tuna fishing boats with wooden hulls, used successfully for minesweeping missions. The USS YP-345 and three other YP class ships were stationed at various islets and islands in the Hawaiian chain.
Admiral Nimitz placed district patrol vessels at smaller islands in the Hawaiian chain in case of an attack targeting Midway Atoll. He grouped four YPs into Task Force 4, all assigned to the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. YP-345 set out with its sister ships, YP-284, YP-290, and YP-350, from Pearl Harbor “to prevent the capture and occupation of Midway by enemy forces.” Right before the battle, Task Force 4 scattered to different islands to prepare. YP-345 went to Gardner’s Pinnacles, YP-290 went to Laysan Island, YP-350 went to Necker Island, and YP-284 returned home to Pearl Harbor.
The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 to June 7, 1942, and four of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s aircraft carriers were destroyed with all of their aircraft. Meanwhile, YP-345 and her sister ships patrolled the islands around Midway to rescue downed airmen. Soon after the battle, they all returned home to Pearl Harbor.
Switching Service to the U.S. Navy Reserve
At the end of May, Japanese American soldiers of both the 299th and 298th Infantry Regiments were reassigned to the all Japanese American 100th Battalion. The 299th Infantry Regiment was removed from the 24th Infantry Division and deactivated on July 21, 1942. Sur faced a tough decision: transfer to another guard unit on the mainland or leave for another branch of the U.S. military.
Sur enlisted with the U.S. Navy Reserve on August 8, 1942, as a seaman apprentice. Upon completion of his training at the naval shipyard at Pearl Harbor on September 16, he was promoted to seaman second class. A letter to the Navy stated, “The Skipper of the [USS YP-345] would like to have this man if you can assign him” in the Fourteenth Naval District Honolulu. The Navy granted the assignment.
Sur joined the USS YP-345’s patrol of Midway months after the June battle.
Lost at Sea
On October 31, 1942, while en route from Pearl Harbor to Midway Island via French Frigate Shoals, district patrol craft YP-345 was lost without a trace to unknown causes, about 80 miles northeast of Laysan Island.
Sur’s mother received notification of his missing status on November 20, 1942. The letter from the government stated, “After a complete review of all available information and in view of the length of time that has elapsed, I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that your son, Ernest Keaouli Sur, Seaman Second Class, United States Naval Reserve, is deceased. He was officially reported to be missing as of 31 October 1942, having been serving aboard YP-345 when that vessel was lost in the Hawaiian area while on a routine voyage. After a radio report was received stating that this vessel was sinking rapidly, an escort vessel and several patrol planes searched the area intensively for a number of days without any success.”
Never to be found, the U.S. Navy declared Sur and his fellow 16 sailors dead on November 1, 1943.
During World War II, Seaman Second Class Ernest Keaouli Sur served his country as a U.S. Navy sailor aboard Yard Patrol ships in the Pacific Theater. During one mission to the French Frigate Shoal that Sur’s ship, the YP-345, went missing. We remember him today for his bravery and sacrifice at sea.
On August 8, 1942, Sur enlisted with the U.S. Navy Reserve and was assigned to the USS YP-345, helped the U.S. Pacific fleet address the threat of Japanese targeting the Hawaiian Islands. On October 31, 1942, while en route from Pearl Harbor to Midway Island via French Frigate Shoals, Sur’s district patrol craft YP-345 was lost without a trace to unknown causes, about 80 miles northeast of Laysan Island. He was officially reported to be missing as of 31 October 1942, having served aboard YP-345 when that vessel was lost in the Hawaiian area while on a routine voyage. After a radio report was received stating that this vessel was sinking rapidly, an escort vessel and several patrol planes searched the area intensively for a number of days without any success. Never to be found, the U.S. Navy declared Sur and his fellow 16 sailors dead on November 1, 1943.
Seaman Second Class Ernest Keaouli Sur was a true hero of America and Hawaiʻi alike. After his home was attacked, he bravely stood and fought against the assailants. Although his service was short-lived, it was not meaningless. Sur gave his life for a larger plan while on a dangerous mission in the Pacific Ocean Island chains. His remains were never found, but he lives on in memory here on the Courts of the Missing. May he forever rest in peace.
There was never a dull moment throughout the trip, and that is thanks largely in part to what all you and your organizations planned. Every day brought us new opportunities to learn and share the history we were surrounded by, and I thank you all for that very much. From the first moment I walked into the hotel and got to meet everyone, I loved talking to everyone and getting to know everyone!
The first dinner at the Waikiki Yacht Club was so special; it was amazing to see such a large group of students who all had similar interests to mine. Being able to share and converse about where we each lived was amazing, and I learned so much about other states! Then, the next day we had the best opening to any trip to Hawaiʻi; Iolani Palace! It was so nice to see a group of my peers learning about the history our islands hold, along with learning about the Hawaiian Kingdom and its history before statehood. Once we concluded that, seeing the Fort DeRussy Army Museum was just as interesting. It was very enlightening to see a museum dedicated to Hawaiian history and a museum dedicated to U.S. military history in one day. It really gave a new perspective on the similarities and differences between the two cultures. Then by ending the day with a beautiful hike and dinner, we set the tone for an amazing trip.
The next two days were truly the highlight of the trip, in my opinion. Starting at the USS Arizona Memorial and the museums that are a part of that was just the tip of the iceberg. Once we did that, we got to go onto the Arizona Memorial and the USS Bowfin, which were both amazing experiences. Then by finishing the day on the USS Missouri, day two came to a close. The next morning, being able to see the sunrise from the deck of a battleship sent chills down my arms and spine as I recognized what an amazing opportunity we had been given. Once we left the ship, the tour of Ford Island was truly special. Being a part of a military family, I had been on the base before. However, seeing it as the history was spoken lifted a haze off my eyes, and I truly saw the island for all it was. This was one of many surreal moments I had during this trip where my perspective of a place or event shifted as I became more knowledgeable. Even though we could not do the hike on Diamond Head, we were able to end the day with a sunset walk on the beach and a few minutes in the water. All of these together are why it was my favorite part of the trip.
After these two days, I did not think anything could top what we had already seen. The next morning though, we saw Hickam Air Force Base. Seeing the base through the eyes of a tourist was significant to me, especially with the commentary we received as we were driving through. After that, visiting the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and seeing the old jets, flying in the simulators, and watching the attack videos was so amazing. By now, I was so saturated with information that I did not think I could learn anything else. Then we met our lecturers, and I realized I could not have been more wrong! Between their combined skills in orating stories, their expansive knowledge of their topics, and the vivid pictures on the screen, the lectures were some of the most amazing history lessons I have ever been lucky enough to attend. I am truly thankful to everyone who helped make that happen. Finally, though, the trip was coming to a close.
As seen from Helm’s bridge, YP-239, YP-284, and YP-346 endeavor to keep formation as they near Guadalcanal. Photograph. September 1, 1942. National Archives and Records Administration (80-G-32146). www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/y/yp-284.html.
Battleship Row following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Photograph. December 7, 1941. University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Library Digital Image Collections (hwrd2216d). digital.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/items/show/28853.
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Ernest K. Sur Military Portrait. Photograph. 1942. Hawaii War Records Depository (Box 127).
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“Koreans Arriving: A Large Party Comes by the Gaelic.” The Hawaiian Star, January 13, 1903. chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82015415/1903-01-13/ed-1/seq-1/.
Laie, Hawaii, 1940 – The Laie Hawaii Temple and reflecting pools. Photograph. April 1942. Brigham Young University Archive.
“Martial Law Declared, Deaths are Mounting.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 7, 1941. University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Library Digital Image Collections (hwrd2174-10b). digital.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/items/show/28797.
Pearl Harbor Attack. Photograph. December 9, 1941. Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 97427). www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/photography/wars-and-events/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor-raid/attacks-on-airfields-and-aerial-combat/naval-air-station–kanoehe-bay–during-the-pearl-harbor-raid/NH-97427.html.
“Receiver of Stolen Goods Gets 30 Days.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 26, 1938. Newspapers.com (49971924).
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