Monday, December 7, 2009


"Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast with
breaking news that Japan has launched a surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and has declared war on Britain and the United States. Details of the attack in Hawaii are scarce but initial reports say Japanese bombers and torpedo-carrying planes targeted warships, aircraft and military installations in Pearl Harbor, on Oahu, the third largest and chief island of Hawaii."
National Broadcasting Company

As dive-bombers descended on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, across the United States, Americans went about their normal Sunday routine. It was cloudy and chilly in San Diego, California. Further east, in Chicago it was also "a chilly, gray afternoon that threatened snow," writes Perry R. Duis, W.O.R.L.D W.A.R II, December 7, 1941 Chicagoans and World War II, Historical Research and Narrative Soon news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was relayed around the world by telephone, telegraph and teletype.

Radio listeners were enjoying music, dramas, public affairs programs, and football. But at 2:22 p.m., a one-line bulletin flashed over the Associated Press wire. “Within minutes, all four networks began relaying news of the attack. Radio covered the story in depth -- perhaps the most chilling moment was when the voice of an announcer at NBC's Honolulu affiliate, proclaims, ‘This is no joke!’” Old Time Radio Moments of the Century, By Elizabeth McLeod,

"Special editions of the newspapers hit the streets, vendors shouting as loudly as they could. At Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals were playing, hundreds of fans wandered out to buy papers before half-time; soon the game was of very minor interest," writes Duis. Newsboys in Oklahoma City stood on sidewalks yelling "Extra, Extra" as they peddled their five-cent special edition hot off the presses – the headline, read "JAPANESE ATTACK HAWAII AND MANILA FROM THE AIR." And in New York City, nearly 55,051 cheering fans who were packed into the Polo Grounds watching the Brooklyn Dodgers play the Giants heard news of the attack.

On the Caribbean Island of Jamaica future sailor, Jamaican-American Robert Sharpe, who was only sixteen, could not imagine how the events of that day would affect his young life. "I was sitting on the veranda of our shack in May Pen, an area in Clarendon Parish, listening to my mother's parents talk about the British and how they took the island from the Spaniards, and how the local people were treated by the British. I had never heard of Pearl Harbor. Everybody became excited and was saying how they knew the Americans would respond and wipe out the Japanese." Soon Sharpe would join his American father in Tarboro, North Carolina, a small town 60 miles east of Raleigh, the capital. His draft notice would arrive within days of his graduation from W. A. Patillo High School in Tarboro.

Meanwhile, in Raleigh, Georgia, native Durrell Russer, a young soldier on a weekend pass, was spending time with his pregnant wife. Outside their window in the street they heard people yelling, "Attack; the Japs (sic) just bombed Pearl Harbor!"

"People came out in the street and started yelling,” Russer remembers. Like Sharpe Russer did not know where Pearl Harbor was. The young soldier and his wife huddled around their radio where they heard, "All soldiers on furlough are ordered to return to camp." Raleigh was still a small town in 1941 and the bus station was in walking distance to the couple's small rooming house. Russer's wife, Hester, said a prayer then the young couple walked slowly to the bus station unsure of each other's safety -- after all, the nation was under attack.

Dressed in his smart, starched and pressed olive drab "Class A" dress uniform, and wearing spit shined shoes Russer boarded a bus for the 50-mile ride back to Fort Bragg Army base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. On the bus, he would have to walk past empty seats in the front of the bus. As he made his way to the back of the bus more than likely he brushed passed a tobacco farmer or cotton farmer, perhaps a minister, or church deacon, all white and all of whom probably avoided his eye contact. On that bus that Sunday evening there were probably other soldiers wearing the same uniform, the only difference was the color or their skin. It is unlikely that any of the white soldiers would have offered this young black soldier a seat, as he was not allowed to sit in the front of the bus in spite of his uniform. He was an American GI ready to defend the white Americans he brushed by on his way to the back of the bus – the "colored section." Perhaps on this Sunday someone in the "White's Only Section" might have felt a twinge of regret at seeing a soldier who was about to risk his life for them relegated to the back of the bus.

That night as Russer traveled back to camp all across America, families began to experience that sinking feeling that comes with fear of the unknown. Mothers and fathers across the nation began to realize their sons were about to go into harm's way and might never return. The next day back on base, Russer gathered with other soldiers around radios and anxiously waited to hear encouraging words from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. What Russer and the other soldiers heard from Roosevelt was that the United States had been “suddenly and deliberately attacked."

Four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Congress declared war on the Axis powers Japan, Italy and Germany – the country was at war.
Copyright © 2009 by Sharon Dense Powell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No comments:

Post a Comment