I Remember Pearl Harbor


    Republished here is a diary I wrote in 2006 for RaisingKaine: my personal recollections of that day

    It was a typically chilly upstate New York December day, we had finished Sunday after-Church brunch and I, just a couple of weeks short of my eleventh birthday, was, as usual, doing two things at once: putting together a jigsaw puzzle and setting type to print my family newsletter on my little hand-powered rotary printing press, when the phone rang. Our English friends a few blocks away were phoning to say “Turn on the radio! The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.”

    It was true, but no surprise to my family,  

    because my father, a Reserve Army Officer had been called to active duty the year before in 1940 as President Roosevelt began mobilizing and had already sent 50 “over-age” destroyers on Lend Lease to Britain… and even though we had two Japanese diplomats in Washington at that precise time, supposedly negotiating our disagreements with the Empire of Japan. My Mother had been knitting scarves and socks for Bundles for Britain for two years, and we already had refugee children from London in our Church community.

    We also had replaced a painting on the living room wall with a large map of Europe, and my father had outlined the then-extent of Nazi aggression: gobbled up were Austria, Sudetenland, Danzig, then half of Poland (with the other half going to Stalin along with the Baltic States), southern Denmark, the Lowlands, northern France; the British had evacuated from Dunkirk in a rout, and the air Battle of Britain had begun at the same time the Italians were in Ethiopia, the Japanese were in Manchuria and the Chinese Nationalists were in a long retreat to Chunking.  

    We hear much nowadays about “the good war,” and how the entire country pulled together overnight, and much of that is true. We were still suffering from the Great Depression, we had very little military equipment (some units drilled with broomsticks, lacking weapons), we were stunned out of our apathy and our assumption heretofore that we were a safe distance from overseas wars. We were unprepared, scared, and angry.

    Forgot sometimes is that FDR was a leader who was disiked by at least 30-40% of the population, even though re-elected by a landslide. We had a small but vocal Communist Party which supported the Soviets against the Allied Powers (England and France), there was a very strong isolationist element in our body politic evidenced by a militant America First outfit which today we would call a pressure group agitating against being dragged into another overseas war in which we had no vital interest they could see, a pro-German group called The German American Bund, and a pro-lynch racist KKK left over from the no-so-long-past Civil War.  A year before, visiting my Southern grandparents in Charleston, I had watched a cross burned in the park across from our hotel while demagogues orated, and men in white sheets roared approval, sounding just like the Nazi crowds roaring approval of Hitler in the sepia-colored Saturday matinee newreels at the movie theater.  

    Then, we went to war, ration books appeared overnight (red points for meat, so much per week, sugar was rationed, chocolate and Lucky Strike green on the cigarette package went to war), gasoline was rationed (an “A” card was worth 5 gallons a week), we saved tin cans and paper, bought War bonds while small denomination war savings stamps were sold in school to children, we put up blackout curtains, and followed my father around the country as the 1st Infantry Division trained and brought itself to full effectiveness.

    President Roosevelt addressed Congress a full day after Pearl Harbor, we heard his address on the radio, requesting that Congress declare War on Japan and the other so-called Axis Powers of Italy, Nazi Germany, Hungary, etc, as they had all declared War on the United States immediately after Pearl Harbor.  As I re-call, only Mrs. Rankin, Representative from Mississippi, voted against the formal declaration of war.

    When I compare those times with these, with how our leadership responded, the peculiar presidential direction to “go shopping or the terorists win,” the lack even of rationing or any requirement for sacrifice by the general population, the failure of the children of the leadership elite to participate to any degree in the blood and sacrifice of the so-called War on Terrorism… Well, it is to weep.  

    • Catzmaw

      She was a teenager living with her prosperous family in the Honolulu hills overlooking Pearl Harbor.  She got up early that Sunday morning and snuck outside to the porch with the funny papers, hoping to read them before her older brothers got to them.  She heard a plane fly low and was shocked to see a Japanese plane flying virtually at eye level to her along the hillside, then bank and turn back toward the houses he’d just passed.  She says she could recognize him on the street today if she saw him, he was that close, and she remembers well the goggles and leather helmet and scarf as he stared at her while passing.  The plane started a strafing run and all of a sudden her father rushed out of the house and grabbed her and hustled her inside, yelling at everyone to crawl under the beds.  Bullets flew around the house, lodging in the stairway to the porch, the porch, and the back bedrooms.  No one was injured, but others were hit that day by Japanese flyers.  Not everyone hurt or killed at Pearl was a member of the military.  

      Later the family repaired the house, but her father insisted that the stairway planks with the bullet holes in them remain as a reminder of what they’d been through, and they stayed there for the rest of her parents’ lives.  

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Jeanette Rankin is one of those female champions of individual rights who has been forgotten by the HIStory books. She was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, and to date the only woman sent to Congress by the state of Montana. Rankin, a Republican when that meant something far different than it does today, was active in the women’s suffrage movement. Her biggest achievement, to me, was getting elected to Congress in 1916, four years before women got the right to vote. An ardent pacifist, Rankin voted against both of the world wars, the only vote against World War II during her second stint in the House of Representatives. Her estate was used to start a foundation that gives scholarships to low income women. (I know this is off the topic of Pearl Harbor Day, but thanks for the opening to plug Rankin, one of my political heroes.)  

    • Randy Klear

      was in the Redskins Band at the time. The attack started at 1 PM on the east coast, the same time as the Skins and Eagles kicked off at Griffith Stadium. He told me his memory of the game was of a steady stream of PA announcements asking General So-and-so or Admiral Such-ahd-such to “please call your office immediately”.

    • Teddy Goodson

      at Fort Shafter (USARPAC Headquarters) during the Vietnam War, I visitd the Arizona Memorial, and took the boat tour of Pearl Harbor. We had friends with quarters down on the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor, which the Japanese had hoped to block by sinking our warships.  It is a very narrow channel, and shallow almost out to the middle, where you could stand with water around your knees and watch a towering aircraft carrier go by a few yards away. The Japanese could have easily invaded the Islands after the catastrophe at Pearl; not doing so was possibly a fatal error on their part.

      We may have watched the Twin Towers go down on 9/11 on television, but somehow the horror of the attack on Pearl, where we very nearly lost our entire Pacific Fleet, is with me more vividly to this day. After 9/11 President Bush announced the country was at war, but in truth that applied only to the military, including the heretofore quiescent National Guard; the vast majority of Americans continued life as usual. But after Pearl, we went to war in every sense of the word. The draft sucked up every walking, breathing male from teens to middle-aged; troop trains filled the railroads and truck convoys filled the roads; Detroit began churning out tanks and airplanes instead of automobiles; we had rationing of meat, butter, eggs; silk stockings vanished, even chocolate was hard to find; and school children bought war stamps while our elders bought war bonds.