Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
Most of us weren’t even born yet, but this December 7 marked the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—as President Roosevelt so stirringly put it, “—a date which will live in infamy”.
Just 11 days before the bombings, Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, had sent the Japanese his suggestions for a peaceful settlement covering the entire Pacific area. The cunning raid demonstrated that the Japanese had only been talking peace to stall while they secretly set up their attack. When the Japanese envoy arrived at Hull’s office, he didn’t mince words, calling it, “The damndest pack of lies,” and telling them, “In all my fifty years of public service I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions—infamous falsehoods and distortions on a scale so huge that I never imagined any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.”
The day after Pearl Harbor, New Jersey Congressman, William H. Sutphin wrote in a newsletter to his constituents: “I believe the nation is united in the belief that political considerations are out of the question until victory is ours. There is now but one party—the American Party. Our people are either for America and victory, or for someone else and our defeat … This is an all-out fight. We must win it.”
We now know the outcome, but at the time those who watched newsreels of the thick black smoke billowing from the ships at anchor, the soldiers, sailors and marines fighting back, and the crews and medical personnel desperately trying to rescue sailors and save lives, feared what might come next.
New York City’s Mayor LaGuardia issued leaflets instructing people what to do “If it begins”. Los Angeles Harbor area was put on high alert. Anti-submarine netting was spread across the entrance to the San Diego fleet base. The entire west coast was put on war footing. Taxicabs gave free rides to soldiers, sailors and marines on leave who were recalled to their posts. Military and civilians worked through the night putting emergency measures in place. Private planes were grounded in the Puget Sound Navy Yard area, private boats were ordered to remain at anchor and warnings were issued that any planes flying over the area would be shot down.
But what about the rest of the people? What did they do when they heard the news? What did the children of that generation do during those difficult war years?
I’m currently working with my local historical society to collect people’s recollections of the attack and what it was like living through the war years. People who were children might remember things their parents did like air raid warden, air watcher, Red Cross volunteer, nursing, canteen services or defense plant worker. Or they may remember practicing for air raids in school, rationing and shortages, knitting garments for hospital and refugee use, or participating in scrap drives.
If you’d like to know more about our local project or have memories to share, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.