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Tai Sing Loo, Pearl Harbor Photographer

by Nov 24, 2019

Shipyard photographer Tai Sing Loo photographed USS Missouri returning to a peaceful Pearl Harbor at war’s end.

Tai Sing Loo’s photography career began at Gurrey’s Art Shop on Fort Street in 1909. In 1918 he began work for the U.S. Navy, eventually becoming the official photographer for the shipyard. And, on December 7, 1941, he was there.

Here is some of what he experienced on that infamous day, excerpted from his report of the attack, titled: “How I Were at Pearl Harbor”:

“Sunday morning I left my home for Pearl Harbor after 7:00 o’clock. I was waiting for my bus at corner Wilder Avenue and Metcalf Street. Saw the sky full of antiaircraft gun firing up in the air, I call my friend to look up in sky, explain them how the Navy used their antiaircraft gun firing in practicing, at that time I didn’t realize we were in actual war. Our bus stop at Bishop and King Streets. We heard the alarm ringing from the third story building of the Lewers & Cooke, Ltd. Saw the window shattered. I walk up to Young Hotel corner and cross the street. Stop for a cup of coffee at Swanky and Franky. Suddenly all excitement arouse the Honolulu Fire Engine rush down Bishop Street and all directions. Taxi full load of sailor and marine dashing toward Pearl Harbor. I’m very much surprise what’s all this excitement. I wave the taxi to stop and get on it to go back to Pearl Harbor. When I approach to Pearl Harbor surprise with great shock. Thought one of our oil tanks caught in fire, showing black velum of thick smoke in the air. I got off at the main gate of Pearl Harbor, met all the guards with arms and Machine Gun in placed. I was great shock with surprise the war are on. Watching many Japanese war planes attacked Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs right and left on dry docks and Ford Island. Suddenly terrific explosion. Fire broke out. I was very calm and waiting for the opportunity to get a ride to the Studio to get my camera. I was at the Main Gates standby with Marines. Guards at the Main Gates were bravery and cool headed to keep the by-standing away for safety and clear traffic. There were the young, fighting marines. We were under fire. The Japanese planes painted in aluminum, Red Ball under each wing, flew very low toward the Main Gates. I wish my Graflex with me. Suddenly, I saw one plane had a hit. It flew direct toward West Locke Stream of smoke screen.”

After catching a ride on base to his studio, he grabbed his 13-pound Speed Graflex camera, his trademark “elephant hat” and headed to the dry docks to help put out the fires there.

“I knew it was very dangerous it may exploded damaged the dry docks and the Pennsylvania. We put our hoses directed the depth charges keeping wet. An Officer came near by said keep up the good work we had our hose right at it all the time, and I turn around and saw Lt. Spear, order all men stand back, some things may happen, so I obey his order and ran back toward U.S.S. Pennsylvania, sudden really happen the terrific explosion came from the Destroyer few people were hurt and some fell down.”

Tai Sing Loo continued his work at the Pearl Harbor shipyard throughout the war, taking photos of the coming and goings of Naval vessels, of life and work at the ship yard. He was also an avid and skilled landscape photographer and particularly enjoyed traveling to the Big Island to photograph Kilauea and surroundings.

Left Image: DD’s Cassin, Downes, and battleship Pennsylvania on December 7th.
Right Image: Tai Sing Loo with trademark elephant hat and fire engine-red “Put-put”.

At war’s end, as Battleship Missouri returned home from Tokyo Bay, Tai Sing Loo was still there, to document her return to a now peaceful Pearl Harbor.

Tai Sing Loo retired from the shipyard two years after World War II ended and headed to the mainland with his family in the summer of 1947 on the first leg of their long-planned, and postponed transcontinental tour, one that he had been planning for thirty years. He fully intended to take advantage of some of the thousands of friendships he had formed over the years and invitations from Admirals to seaman, to “look me up when you come to the mainland”.

On August 27, 1971, Tai Sing Loo suffered a heart attack while taking photographs at a hotel in Waikiki. He died that afternoon at the age of 84.