Today, we pause a moment to remember what happened one December day when early in the morning Japanese war planes made a stealth attack on Pearl Harbor.
We mourn those who lost their lives that day, as well as the thousands others who died in battle for four years after the attack, until the Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945.
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked the naval station in Honolulu, killing 2,403 American servicemen and civilians, and injuring 1,178 others. The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four others. It also damaged three cruisers, and three destroyers. One hundred eighty-eight planes were destroyed and 159 damaged.
Most people reading this blog were not alive on that day. Neither was I. But those who were, were profoundly affected by this horrendous attack. My parents certainly were, and here is an account of their reaction, taken from my book about my mother, Evelyn Evolving. This scene is based loosely on a memory that my mother shared with me a long time ago, supplemented by research of the facts of what people heard on the radio.
Later, sitting at the table with Russell, Juanita in a high chair between them, Evelyn played some more with the fantasy, creating a mental picture of what her family might look like ten years from now. Juanita would be a young lady, and maybe there would be other children. They would live in a red brick—
“Listen.” The outburst shattered the peacefulness of that daydream.
There was an unmistakable urgency in Russell’s voice, but Evelyn had no idea why.
What?” she asked.
“On the radio.”
She had been only half aware of the radio playing in the living room, and the fact that the music had stopped had not penetrated her musings. “What’s happening?”
“A news bulletin. I think a man said there was an attack. On an American naval base.”
Russell held up his hand to quiet her, and they both heard, “The naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese planes early this morning.”
“Oh my God,” Evelyn said. “That can’t be true.”
“Wait.” Russell got up from the table and went into the living room to turn up the volume on the radio.
“Details are sketchy,” the reporter said. “Stay tuned to World News Today for updates. I repeat this news bulletin just in. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor today, sinking several ships and killing hundreds of people.”
Evelyn walked over to stand beside Russell. “Do you suppose this could be a hoax? Like that one a few years ago. When that actor tricked us about an invasion from Mars?”
Russell shrugged. “Nobody should joke about something like this.”
Evelyn thought nobody should have joked about an alien invasion, either, but she didn’t voice that opinion.
After a few moments of static and garbled transmission, the reporter came back on air. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have the first eyewitness account of the horror that is happening in Hawaii. This comes from an NBC Blue Network reporter who climbed to the roof of a building in downtown Honolulu, microphone in hand. He said, ‘This battle has been going on for nearly three hours… It’s no joke, it’s a real war.'”
“Oh no.” Evelyn sank into a nearby chair. “That’s terrible.”
They listened to the report for a few more minutes as the announcer said that their country needed all able-bodied men to join up to fight the Japanese.
Russell stood. It was as if he needed to do that for this declaration. “First thing tomorrow, I’m going to enlist.”
“Enlist?” She looked at him, aghast. “You could get killed.”
“Don’t think that way.”
“How should I think?”
“That I will do my duty and make it out alive.”
“But what about me. The baby. The house?”
“That can wait.”
“You would just leave me and maybe never come back?”
Russell grabbed her gently by the shoulders. “Evelyn. Don’t you understand what has just happened? Our country has been attacked. We have to defend ourselves.”
“Why can’t single men with no families do the defending?”
Russell dropped his hands and shook his head. “This is not open for discussion.”
The peaceful afternoon Evelyn had anticipated was shattered by the news on the radio, and Russell’s declaration. She was so stunned she couldn’t let her mind even consider the possibility that he would go off to fight in this war and perhaps never come back.
As it turned out, my father was not able to serve. He was colorblind, and the Army rejected him, which was a relief to my mother, and maybe a little bit of a relief to him. I don’t know. We never talked about it. But while my father was a loyalist and a patriot, called to action like so many other men and women, he was a pacifist at heart.
That’s all for me folks. Have a great weekend and happy times preparing for the upcoming holidays. And Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends. May your blessings abound a thousand fold.