PEARL HARBOR, a Childhood Memory

December 7, 1941 was a cold, blustery day in northern Ohio. That afternoon, my brother and I sat with Dad in the wagon as we rode back into our woods to bring in firewood for the winter. A few days earlier, Dad and a neighbor had cut down a tree and sawed it into two foot sections. Now, Dad split those chunks of wood into firewood that would fit our stoves. My job was to carry those pieces and stack them in the wagon, where the horses waited patiently. I was twelve, one day short of my thirteenth birthday. Thinking of the next day, I wondered if Mother would kill a chicken for my special meal. And there would be cake. Yum.

We arrived home tired and hungry. Mother had bean soup simmering, and with our arrival, added wood to the cook stove to heat up the oven, and began to mix cornbread. While I warmed my hands, Dad turned on the radio.

We heard, “planes destroyed on Hickman Field…battleships burning …waves of Japanese planes.” The announcer was almost hoarse from shouting. We listened, mesmerized.

After a moment, Mother said, “What about Mack?” Dad’s brother, Mack, was a commander in the Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Dad laughed, “This isn’t real. Don’t be like those who panicked over an invasion of men from Mars. Mack is just fine.” Three years earlier, an Orson Welles radio production, “War of the Worlds,” appeared as a simulated news report of an invasion by Martians. Those who had not heard the program introduction believed it was actually happening.

We relaxed, but still listened, glad it wasn’t real because it sounded horrible. To save the battery, Dad usually only turned on the radio for the news, but we all insisted that he keep this program on, so we could see how it ended. When it didn’t conclude at the end of the hour, Mother and Dad exchanged glances. Finally, Mother sank down at the table with her head in her hands.

Dad shook his head. “This will mean war.”

The next day, President Roosevelt addressed the nation as he declared war on Japan. It seemed likely war with Japan’s ally, Germany, would follow. A year earlier, concern over the war in Europe led to passage of draft registration for men up to age 35. Now Congress proposed to raise the age limit to 45. Dad was 36. Her face lined with worry, Mother asked Dad how she could possibly operate the farm without him. He tried to reassure her this wouldn’t happen.

They forgot my birthday. I wanted to remind them, but that seemed selfish in this situation.


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