Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 7:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 7:36 p.m.
Jackie Wages was an 11-year-old in paradise when a clear, blue Hawaiian ski suddenly rained death and horror. She'd spend the rest of her life honoring the victims and veterans of Imperial Japan's 1941 attack on U.S. forces on Oahu.
Wages, an artist and retired interior designer, was a steady presence at meetings and memorials of Pearl Harbor survivors in Sonoma and Lake counties.
She died Thursday at her Cloverdale home following several battles with cancer. She was 82.
Her family was living near Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack that drew the U.S. into World War II. Her late father, Porter Smith, was a civilian who oversaw work done on naval ships in the drydocks.
As the first bombs and torpedoes fell, her father instructed his wife and three kids to hide under cover, then he pedaled a bike to the besieged harbor's drydocks, Wages wrote in recollections published last year in the newsletter of Pearl Harbor Survivors, North Bay.
He did what he could to minimize damage to the ships in the docks, and at about 9 a.m. pedaled back to check on his family.
“On the way home, tracers flew in all directions and one nervous Marine almost got him with a bayonet,” Wages wrote. “When my father finally reached home we were all hiding under the table with the mattresses piled on top of us.”
Shortly after the attack, the U.S. government evacuated the families of military and civilian personnel. Wages and her mother and two brothers boarded an ocean liner for the long and frightening voyage across the Pacific.
“My brothers and I watched the convoy from the back of the ship,” she wrote. “Subs, destroyers — I don't know how many ships escorted us out of Honolulu.
“We kids were fascinated by the depth charges. That was something to see.”
Upon arriving in San Diego she was surprised by a great, affectionate — and generous — welcome. “So many people greeted us and gave us clothes. I don't know what all they gave us but I do remember a beautiful coat with a fur collar.
“All these people cheering us. Me with my beautiful coat! I thought I was something special but I didn't know why.”
As America went to war, Wages returned to her hometown, Ukiah. She completed her schooling and trained in architecture and design.
She had moved to Monterey and was working as a waitress when she met a soldier, David Wages. They had been married nearly 50 years when he died in 2004.
Jackie Wages lived for a time in Lake County before she retired to Cloverdale, where she painted and volunteered with the town's historical society.
“She was a beautiful artist,” said daughter Debi Unterseher of Forestville. “She loved to swim, and write.”
Friend and neighbor Mary Antonini called her “a witty, kind, artistic, lovely lady.
“I just relish the fact that I had the privilege to know her,” Antonini said. She said Wages was a creative spirit deeply committed to Pearl Harbor veterans and grateful to be alive. She was a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, and of Pearl Harbor Survivors, North Bay.
“Jackie was very involved in the community,” Antonini said. “She involved herself in whatever was going on. Jackie just loved life.”
In addition to her daughter in Forestville, Wages is survived by daughter Cyndi Hunt of Cloverdale and brother Sonny Smith of Ukiah.
Friends are invited to gather at her home between 4 and 6 p.m. today.
— Chris Smith
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