Americans Remember Pearl Harbor

The first three testimonies are from Harris, Mark, The Homefront: America During World War II.
The rest are from Hoopes, Roy, Americans Remember the Home Front.

The Providence Journal, 12/7/41.

Frank Waldrop was the managing editor of the Washington Times Herald.

I was at my office attending to business. I had gone down there, as I customarily did, about ten o'clock on Sunday morning. By noon, or a little after, I had finished going through my stuff, and I went back in the wire room just to look at what the hell was going on, and I saw a dispatch from Reuters that said that two Japanese battleships had been sighted going south in the Gulf of Siam, so I thought, "What the hell. Things are right at the flash point. I believe I'll stick around a while." So I went back to work.

A fellow named Tom Stephens was on the city desk doing the dog watch, and I guess about two o'clock he came belting into my office, his face ashen, and said, "The police radio says that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!" So I said: "Call the White House and see if you can get a confirmation." I began to put the telephone operators to work finding out where everybody was. Fortunately all of our circulation people were out at the Redskins football game. They had some junket that the kids had wanted to attend, so there was a big crowd of them out there. I called the Redskins office and told them to put on their loudspeaker "All Times Herald people report to their office on the double," and about the same time, the navy was calling and the army was calling, and so I didn't have any problem. They didn't say that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, but they did say: "All military personnel report to your commanding officers" or your "posts of duty." The Times Herald actually was announced, and a great many printers were out there, by good chance. I also got hold of the head of the composing room, and the people who heard it on the radio didn't have to be told.

They got the hell down there. So by the time the people made it to the office, I had a story and I had gotten a full description of the attack officially, including the losses and all, quite detailed. We didn't publish the details, but we got them.

I wrote the lead couple of paragraphs and then after that I was too damned busy to fool with it. But people just filled in as it came along and built the story. I went to the composing room with the foreman of the typographical end of the paper, Irving Belt, and the Times Herald was on the street four hours ahead of any newspaper, I think, in the country. We were sure as hell the first newspaper in Washington. We were off and balling right smack out with it, and what I love, as I look back on it, was when those guys came in there, you didn't have to tell them anything. They knew right where they belonged, and they hit this damn thing, and the circulation department was up, and when the pressman pressed that button, those damned papers went out of there like scared dogs. I think there's a copy of it on the wall over at the Press Club: "Pearl Harbor Bombed." I had a double line on it; we just set type as big as we could get it. What the hell! Your country doesn't get attacked every day in the week.

Celeste Kavanaugh was a senior at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee.

I was on a house party with a group of friends, and we had gone to a movie that Sunday afternoon and returned to my friend's home, where we were met with the news. One of my best friends, Admiral Angus's daughter, was with me that day, and I remember she burst into tears. I think she realized the impact a little more than the rest of us, but we were all thoroughly shocked.

Heli Swyter in Houston, Texas:

I was in the hospital with my son, who was born two weeks before Pearl Harbor. Since I had some complications, I had to stay in the hospital longer than usual. Of course, the news of Pearl Harbor shocked me, because it was such an unexpected attack. That meant we were going to be in the war, I was sure. My husband left in April that year, and I did not see him for four years. I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter because I was in the hospital having a son when Pearl Harbor was attacked and my husband was overseas. I felt all right, but everybody made such a fuss over me that pretty soon I began to feel sorry for myself.

John Grove:

On Saturday, December 6, 1941, my sister and I were visiting my mother and four younger brothers at their little farm home near Sebastopol in California's Russian River country. All evening we sat around an ancient radio, listening to news reports of Japanese naval activity between the Hawaiian Islands, Guam and the Philippines. There was a steady stream of these reports coming in, but officials seemed to be regarding them as inconsequential. As our family talked about it, we could see a parallel with the reports from Western Europe that had flooded the newspapers a week before the German invasion of Russia that June. Moscow had denied then that anything warlike was going on. They kept saying, "We have a treaty with Germany, and nothing's going to happen." After a week of these denials, the Nazi blitzkrieg was launched against an unprepared U.S.S.R. Now we were hearing the same kind of reports over the radio.

About midnight we all concluded, "Within twenty-four hours the Japanese are going to attack us. Maybe Honolulu, possibly the Philippines, maybe Guam, maybe all three places, but somewhere. That's all that the imminence of this warlike activity can mean."

The next day around noon, I was driving through Vallejo on my way back to Berkeley. My route passed right by Mare Island Navy Yard, and I was stunned when I saw uniformed men and vehicles scrambling in mass confusion on the waterfront facing the island. Hundreds of military personnel were just milling aimlessly around. Others were streaming on board little ferries over to the island. I knew something was very wrong, and I turned on my car radio and, of course, learned the terrible news. It didn't take very long before I also realized that it came as a complete surprise to the military. To this day it's something I haven't gotten over. How could we, just dumb civilians, figure this one out, and yet the military be asleep?

Only later, much later, did it become known that American military commanders and the President's aides had been unbelievably negligent. I think there may be another partial explanation: We Americans were basically racist in our attitudes toward the Japanese. Because most prewar Japanese exports of manufactured goods to this country were shoddy imitations of quality U.S. or European articles, it was not surprising that Americans felt that "Jap" ships, planes, tanks and guns were of poor quality and that, by extension, the American fighting men were also superior. An all-too-common American expression in 1941 was, "We can beat those Japs with one hand tied behind our backs." The racism was even worse than the grammar. Another example was an article in a respected U.S. aviation magazine in the summer of 1941 which declared that Japanese military pilots would have no chance against our pilots because all Japanese had poor eyesight. I read that stupid article.

Edward Osberg:

That Sunday my wife and I were having dinner at my father and mother's home in Chicago. My sister, who had just recently been married, and her husband were also there. I turned on the radio about one-thirty in the afternoon, just as Mother called us to come to the dining room to have dinner.

I got so excited when the announcer broke through that we delayed our dinner for half an hour. We ate in a state of shock. I was an avid reader of the newspapers and had seen the portents that something was going to explode somewhere, but I didn't know how or when, and, of course, I didn't expect Pearl Harbor. When it came, it was a tremendous shock.

I knew that this was a turning point, that our lives would never be the same again.

Barbara Norek:

Every Sunday our family went to the movies, the matinee. Abbott and Costello was my father's favorite. I never could stand them, but nevertheless we would all go. On December 7 my mother and father and my two younger sisters and I were all in the car on the way to the movies when the announcement came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

"Oh, my God, we've got to go home," my dad says.

Of course in the back seat there was this uproar from the kids. "We want to see Abbott and Costello."

"We can't," my father says. "Pearl Harbor has been bombed."

"What's a Pearl Harbor?" we all wanted to know.

"When I get home I'll get out the atlas and see if I can tell you about it." Actually I don't ever remember him telling us where it was. The only thing I recall was that I didn't go to the movies that day. The following week they closed down the schools in Berkeley, and everybody rushed around and bought blackout paper to glue over the windows to keep the light from showing. It was all very exciting because it was something different than what had been a sort of dull existence. Suddenly things were happening. People were panicking, my mother was crying that the end of the world was coming. It was exhilarating.

Barbara De Nike:

My husband and I spent that Sunday at the Cloisters, an art museum in New York. On the way back to our apartment in the Bronx, we stopped at an ice-cream store that he had gone to as a boy and wanted me to see. That's when we heard the news.

The owner of the ice-cream parlor was a German who had been in World War I, and he was extremely distraught. There were young people forming little lines and marching in and out of the ice cream store singing in almost a tone of celebration. I remember the owner standing there saying "They just don't know what they're doing." It really was very striking.

I hadn't been married terribly long and was pregnant, so I was very upset. My first thought was what was it going to do to us as a family.

Rachel Wray:

In August 1941 I had come out to Whittier, California, from Oklahoma to join my boyfriend, who was in the Navy. George came home in September, but the news was a little bit touchy with Japan, so he was called back after a week. In December he was going to take a thirty-day leave and we were going to make arrangements to get married. The day that he left San Francisco to hitchhike down to Whittier, Pearl Harbor was attacked. When he and his buddy arrived at seven o'clock that night, there was a telegram waiting for them at George's mother's house asking them to come hack. They left at seven the next morning. I saw him again for three days in June when the ship took on provisions in San Diego, then I didn't see him until June of 1944.

Don Johnson:

The day of Pearl Harbor my wife and I were away for a Sunday trip, about forty miles from our home in Flint, Michigan. There was an immediate concern -- uncertainty, panic, a feeling that you needed somehow to seek a place where you'd be protected. We got in our car and quickly started that forty-mile trip back home, knowing that was the best thing to do, to get home where you felt safe, where you'd have proper communications. I remember our feelings on the trip hack. First it was indignation, then it turned to anger, and by the time one went to work the following morning it was determination: "They can't do that to us."

Margaret Takahashi:

It was Sunday morning in Los Angeles when we heard the news. We were too shocked to go to mass. At first we just didn't believe it. It was one of those things that are beyond belief. Then when people started calling, and we were pretty sure it was true, we were upset and angry and outraged.

Later we started to worry and become uneasy, but I thought the war would be over in a couple of weeks and everything would be all right again. I just couldn't believe it when it kept dragging on. In fact, Japan seemed to he winning, and that was hard to believe. We had this feeling that America was so invincible. Compared to the United States, Japan was like an appendix, and suddenly it had burst.

Henry Murakami:

On December 7 I was umpiring a baseball game for the younger boys on the playground on Terminal Island, and we got through late. We were the last boat to go out fishing that afternoon. When we reached the lighthouse on San Pedro, all of a sudden we met the Coast Guard. They came up to us and said, "Go back to the port and stay there until further notice."

We didn't know what was happening. We hadn't done anything wrong. But they wouldn't tell us anything. So we came back to the fish harbor. It wasn't until we got off the dock and heard all the radios that we understood why the Coast Guard had sent us back.

Dellie Hahne:

At the time of Pearl Harbor I was twenty-one, a music major at Santa Barbara State College. That Sunday I was having breakfast with friends. Somebody turned on the radio and flipped through the dial. We didn't catch the actual words that the announcer said, hut the voice was so tense, so full of emotion, that we all froze.

I was absolutely stunned. My mother had told me how she had felt when war was declared in 1917. I thought, My God, it's happening to me. Then came the hideous fear that the bombers would come and we'd all he killed. It was a horrible moment.

In an incredibly short time -- it seemed to be almost a matter of moments -- a wave of patriotism swept the country. As we drove home we felt, This is our country, and we're going to fight to defend it. When we got home that evening we were glued to the radio. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, and everyone in the room automatically rose. And we were disillusioned college students -- the 1940s version of the 1960s kids. The outward show of patriotism was something that I had always sneered at, but we all stood and we all tingled. So the fervor started right off the bat. It was like a disease, and we all caught it.

The next day we all returned to classes, but there was a Japanese student in my art class who stayed in her room and was afraid to leave because of the attack. The art teacher mentioned this to us, and we all thought, Well, she should. We had no understanding, no pity, no tolerance. She was a Jap and that was that.

William Pefley:

I was working in the navy yard in Portsmouth, Virginia, when Pearl Harbor was bombed. We were in the office that Sunday where we always caught the news on the radio about what was going on in Europe. And when we heard about the bombing, we immediately went out of the shop and told the others, and everybody said, "Let's get to work and get these damn ships out and get them Japs."

Overnight there was a complete change in attitude. We weren't just helping England anymore; we were helping ourselves. Now it was our war. So everybody decided, "No matter what the hours may be, let's get the ships out. Whatever we can do to help this war effort, we are going to do." And from that point on, we started working ten, twelve, sixteen hours at a stretch.

Henry Fiering:

It was about two-thirty in the afternoon. I was home reading in my living room when the news came over the radio. I'm sure my reaction wasn't any different from millions of Americans. I was stunned. I felt hopelessness, anger, uncertainty. I had been in the midst of organizing a shop in Cleveland, and I was due down there the next morning, but I took no union leaflets and had no intention of organizing. I'll never forget the somber mood of the workers as they came in. The only thing on anybody's mind was the war, the possible war.

Marjorie Cartwright:

I graduated from high school in 1941 and started to look for work, but there were no jobs of any kind to be had. I lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia, a small town-around forty thousand people. The factories were working with skeleton crews, and no one was hiring. If a person wanted to go to Pittsburgh or Baltimore or Philadelphia or some of the larger cities and take a job, they could generally find something there. My boyfriend had already left Clarksburg to join the Navy, but I was seventeen and I didn't want to leave my hometown. My parents didn't approve of my leaving, either. They preferred that I try to find something around home, but it was very difficult.

Finally, I got so discouraged I went to see a psychic who lived in Clarksburg, to find out when the Depression would end, when I would be able to find a job. She said to me, "Something terrible is going to happen to this country before the leaves are green again. Your boyfriend is going to be involved in this tragedy. Something terrible is going to happen to him, but he will come through it. Go home and tell his mother that something will happen to him, but not to worry about her son. She will hear from him in a few months.

"Also be sure to send him the Ninety-first Psalm to say every Day and night. Tell him to memorize that and don't forget to say it."

She told me, "This is going to be one of the worst tragedies that will ever befall our country, but don't worry, our country is going to he victorious."

At the time I didn't know what she was talking about. It was all a mystery to me. Several months later, of course, Pearl Harbor was bombed and I understood. My boyfriend's ship had been at sea and had come into Pearl the night before the Japanese attacked. He was on a heavy cruiser, and the larger cruisers were anchored in the outlying part of the harbor. When the Japanese struck, naturally they bombed the interior of the harbor and all the installations. While the bombing was going on, the ships on the outside of the harbor got up steam and set out in search of the Japanese Navy. They were at sea a month before anyone heard from him. We contacted the Red Cross, but they were unable to find him, either. Because of what the psychic had said, though, I never lost hope that he was alive.