If you remember where you were and what you were doing on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, chances are pretty good that if you are over 75 years of age, you also have memories of where you were and what you were doing on Dec. 7, 1941.
Several years ago, a friend asked me to come by his business because he had something he thought I would like to take a look at. He had done some work for a customer who rewarded him with a well-preserved copy of the Dec. 8, 1941, issue of the old Dallas Journal, published the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The banner headline in 160-point type — about the largest available in old hot type days — reads “United States Declares War.” Today that newspaper would be 76 years old. It's stories stated 1,500 Americans had been killed by bombs when the Japanese made an air attack on Hawaii. The declaration of war came just 34 years and 27 days after the end of World War I, a conflict that was said to be a “war to end all wars.”
Today, we know that while World War I was a terrible war, the conflicts have gotten worse as they have been coming even more often. Whether we were around the day of the attack, or if we've heard about it so much we feel like we were here, tomorrow will mark the anniversary of what drew our country into World War II with Japan.
I was only 6 years old, but I remember well the day. It was Sunday afternoon in Denison when bulletins on the radio began reporting that Pearl Harbor had been bombed in a surprise attack.
On the 25th anniversary of the attack, Claud Easterly, editor of The Denison Herald for more than 40 years, wrote his remembrances of that day. He said it was a cloudy day in Denison as residents were putting up their Christmas decorations and beginning their shopping.
A story in the Herald the next day, he said, told about bombs dropped thousands of miles away. They transformed Denison overnight from a city at peace to one at war. We all know that the way of life for the entire nation changed drastically that day, a day that President Roosevelt called a day that would “live in infamy.”
While 1,500 Americans was a horrible loss to the United States (Hawaii was not yet one of the United States), total casualties were said in the Dallas newspaper to reach about 3,000, according to a White House announcement. That figure was much more in the Monday edition of the Herald that reported in a headline that 6,000 were either killed or wounded in the attack.
Speaking before Congress, President Roosevelt appeared in person during a joint session of Congress that had been called. He gave a brief, but detailed, account of the attack on Hawaii, an American territory, according to the Dallas newspaper. He predicted that the American people “in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
That's exactly what the country did, but it took a few years to accomplish the victory. It's taken many more years and the loss of many more lives in conflicts to keep this country free and we're not finished yet.
Almost half of page two of the Dallas newspaper was filled with “War Bulletins.” There was a blackout at the Sitka, Alaska site of a strategic naval-military base. The Mexican government ordered the Army and Navy to maintain a state of “extraordinary vigilance” along Mexico's coast. All leaves and furloughs in the military were canceled. Japanese attempting to enter or leave the United States were detained. Washington, D.C., was partly blacked out early that morning — and on and on as word spread around the world.
In more recent years, the two local newspapers that combined to form the Herald Democrat have published interviews with several local men who were on Pearl Harbor when the attack took place.
One that I interviewed a couple of times was Allen Allender, who was stationed at Wheeler Field near Pearl Harbor. Allender heard the bombing while having breakfast and looked up to see a Japanese plane flying so low that he could see the pilot. Allen passed away in May 2005.
“We thought we could beat the pants off them in about three months,” Allender said in an interview, then added, “but we found out it wasn't that easy.”
Another veteran of the attack, Frank Graves was a Marine Corps sergeant stationed aboard the Carrier Enterprise. At that time, however, he was attending an anti-aircraft school on the island. He was quoted in a Dec. 7, 1975, article as saying he had just gotten up that Sunday morning when the first wave of Japanese planes flew over. He said he immediately recognized them and began yelling but no one would believe him until one tail gunner began spraying the area and hit one of the men in the foot.
“That made believers out of them,” he said.
A few years ago, Graves participated in a television documentary that featured the men “who were there.” Graves also passed away a few years ago.
The story hit painfully close to home when a few days after the attack it was learned that a Denison youth, Jesse Leroy Adams, 21, a son of Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Adams who lived at 721 West Hull, died that Sunday aboard his ship there. The young Adams was buried in the cemetery at Crater Basin with thousands of other Americans who were killed that day.
Adams was a gunner aboard the battleship U.S.S. Tennessee and died at his station. The Tennessee was still afloat after the attack but was heavily damaged. The Adams family kept hope that Jesse had survived, but the telegram arrived on the Friday after the attack that verified that he was among the casualties.
First reports indicated that 24 Denisonians were in the Pacific in various military branches. Immediately after the attack 106 men and women from the Denison High School class of 1942 joined the military. Those who didn't join up became essential defense workers. These were not only men, but women too and the time possibly was the beginning of the movement by women to work outside the home.
President Roosevelt was correct when he said the date would live in infamy. Every year we remember and every year we thank God for the men and women who have given their lives in every war or conflict to keep our great country free.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.