It seems to me that there are some memories that can be triggered and spring into our minds stark and clear even after many years. That’s what happened recently to both me and my Sweetheart-for-Life with the recent flurry of ceremonies and news reports centering on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Yep, we are among the ever-decreasing number of those who can recall that day – much as folks today can recall the attack on 9/11. That day started off as any other early December Sunday in my hometown in the north-central part of the state. Sunday in our household back then was a kinda special day. For one thing Dad was home on Sunday – he worked the other six days a week. We youngsters put on our “Sunday” clothes, and after a quick breakfast, attended Sunday school. At about noon we had a kinda late breakfast featuring soft boiled eggs, fried potatoes, and toast with homemade jelly. Mmm!
Sunday afternoons were spent reading the comics, going to a movie, or listening to the radio. Sunday supper was also special often featuring meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, some kind of vegetable – with Jello for desert. A real treat. Dad was in his chair reading the newspaper and Mom was busy in the kitchen while several of us were listening to the radio when the usual programing was interrupted. I don’t recall what show was on or the exact words of the of the announcement but I remember Dad shushed everyone so he could hear – and Mom came out of the kitchen so she could hear better.
It was the bulletin that the Japanese had bombed a place called Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. The details were sketchy but the essence of the news was clear – a sneak attack had been carried out by Japan against our unsuspecting military forces early on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Everyone was very quiet when someone, I don’t recall who, asked Dad what this meant. He rather quietly said, “It means we’re at war.” Mom turned and went back into the kitchen.
My Sweetheart-for-Life also recalls that day very vividly. Her family was living Milwaukee then and she was sitting on their front porch waiting for her aunt to arrive for Sunday dinner – a nice family get-together. It was pretty much another usual Sunday when suddenly there were yells of “Extra! Extra!” from a newsboy coming down the street waving a newspaper. Back in those days newspapers put out an “extra” when some very important news event occurred. This “extra” was about Pearl Harbor and was the first news her family had about the attack.
You know, in today’s world we have lotsa means of distributing news – including on-the-spot pictures and commentary from almost anywhere in the world. Back seventy-five years ago newspapers were a primary source of definitive news but radio was becoming more important .in news reporting. We had no TV, Internet, social networking, and such, and many folks were without telephones – we didn’t have one until well after WWII. Long range communication depended primarily on “short wave” radio for voice, teletype, and Morse code. As a result information was limited, spotty, and often days old – but we understood these limitations. Furthermore, we relied on the integrity and accuracy of the reporters and their news outlets whether on radio or in print. In short, we trusted them to provide the best information available.
War was formally declared on December 8, 1941 – another memorable day for me because it was my birthday. That act of Congress proved to be the last official declaration of war since then. Sure, we have engaged in a number of military conflicts in the past 75 years, but none have been as a result of an official declaration of war. As one President of the United States put it, “We can have both guns and butter” – referring to how the country can continue on “as usual” without military conflict having any noticeable impact on our everyday lives. Quite a contrast to the total dedication to victory by the entire country 75 years ago.
Well, those of us who consider the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the ensuing war years as personal memories rather than as historical events are dying off at a pretty good clip and our stories will soon have vanished. I have occasionally been asked to relate some of our wartime experiences including rationing, shortages and such and found my younger audiences were impressed with how we were able to cope with such hardships. We didn’t consider them hardships – we just did what had to be done. At least that’s how it seemed to us.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]