To the editor:
Most of us remember big days in American history. Sept. 11, for example. Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was shot. July 20, 1969, the day man first landed on the moon.
I remember Dec. 7, 1941, fairly well. A small percentage of people do as it was 76 years ago. I was two weeks shy of 9 years old and in the fourth grade at a school in Springfield, Missouri.
My family lived in a small rented house. On that day, a Sunday afternoon, we listened to the radio. I think it had music on. I was lying on the living room floor with my collection of bubblegum cards of British, American and German warplanes. I suspect I was having a mock battle with them. Then the radio broadcast was interrupted and the announcement made that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, inflicting great destruction and loss of life.
The next day, we listened to President Roosevelt tell us that we were in a state of war with Japan. Have you ever listened to his great speaking voice? Have you ever heard Churchill’s? We were so fortunate to have two such great men, and I believe we might not have won World War II without them.
We were accustomed to news of war in Europe. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war. In May and June of 1940, Germany took France. In fall and winter of 1940, there was the blitz, and we often heard Edward R. Murrow speaking from London. War continued in Europe in 1941 and the news was bad. The Germans took Crete and most of north Africa. In June they invaded Russia. In December they were starting to realize they had bitten off more than they could chew.
Even so, our country was unprepared. Republicans, the minority party, favored staying out of the war with Germany. I don’t think many people expected war to break out with Japan, which had been committing atrocities in China for years.
After Pearl Harbor, we had nothing but bad news in 1942 until Midway in June. We were proud of the defenders of little Wake Island, a refueling stop for the Boeing Clipper seaplanes that provided trans-Pacific passenger service, but the Japanese overwhelmed them and took it. We were proud of our soldiers in the Philippines, who fought a losing battle at Bataan and Corregidor. But they put up a gallant struggle. Britain was greatly embarrassed by the loss of Singapore, supposedly the greatest fortress in the world. It had mighty guns pointing out to sea, but the Japanese invaded the peninsula and took it from the landward side.
Politics were forgotten, at least for a short time, after Pearl Harbor. The American people, united under Roosevelt, were totally dedicated to winning the simultaneous wars against Japan and Germany. America’s motto was “Remember Pearl Harbor.” I still do.
Broadcasts by Edward R. Murrow can be heard on YouTube. There are also recorded wartime speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt.