Today, she's an 81-year-old grandmother and an author herself, penning "Pearl Harbor Child: A Child's View of Pearl Harbor from Attack to Peace."
It was that book that spurred American Girl to approach Nicholson to help craft Nanea's story.
"Because I went through the bombing and lived in the middle of the harbor and went through all of it at about the same age as Nanea, they asked me to be an advisor and I was thrilled," Nicholson told the TODAY Show.
The retired marriage and family therapist, who now lives in Missouri, said her story resonates at a time when America and the world is grappling with terrorism.
"What I tell kids is whatever kind of trauma you're going through, if you've got somebody in your life that you can trust and rely upon, you are fortunate."
Nanea, American Girl's newest doll, grows up during World War II and does her part to help and heal during wartime.
The doll went on sale Monday. In addition to the 18-inch doll, a number of accessories will be available, including "Hawaiian-inspired" outfits, hula outfits and implements, and Nanea's Family Market.
“We hope Nanea’s powerful story of resilience, responsibility to others, and contributing for the common good — or kokua, as it’s known in Hawaii — will resonate with girls and show them they have the power within to face the obstacles that come their way," said Katy Dickson, president of American Girl, in a news release.