- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

There are getting to be fewer and fewer of us each year the ones who can remember what they were doing on December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor Day, "the date that will live in infamy."

I was lying on my stomach in the living room of our house reading the Sunday comics and listening to the Washington Redskins game on our radio. I can remember hearing the public address loudspeaker telling colonels and generals, admirals and Navy captains to call, or report to, their offices, and wondering vaguely what that was all about. No matter how many times I have been reminded, I can't remember the score of that game.

I am not sure which came first: The radio announcement of the Japanese attack or the colonel who lived next door knocking on our front door. He was giving my father a power of attorney in case his wife needed any help in dealing with anything. The good colonel did not know when he would be back.

World War II had arrived in our cul de sac near the cannon at the intersection of Braddock and Russell roads in Alexandria.

As it turned out, it would be more than four years before we or his family saw the colonel again. When we did, he was a very lean, very tired-looking major general who had spent most of that time in the Pacific.

Naturally, people have asked me about similarities between that day 60 years ago and September 11, 2001.

What stands out for me, however, is the difference. Then, we were not urged to travel because it would be good for the airlines and the tourist business, to buy and spend because it would be good for the retail business, to go have fun because it would be good for something or other perhaps as an act of defiance.

Instead, we started "victory gardens," scrimped and saved, and became used to ration coupons.

Immediately after that attack, there was a sense of determination and, yes, unity.

Military recruiting centers around the country were swamped by young men and some not so young trying to enlist. For instance, Paul Douglas, a U.S. senator after the war, joined the Marines in his 40s.

My father, of the same age, tried to enlist but was told that he would be more useful as a civilian. Soon after, he moved from the Agriculture Department to the Bureau of Economic Warfare, an agency secret enough that it was not on government lists for several years. For the duration, the most he took off was a long week once a year, maybe. I think there were several years without a break, and little enough to balance the weeks of 16-hour and longer workdays.

And Washington was filled with people doing the same, as were cities large and small across the land.

An army of women arrived in Washington to fill all the jobs needed on the home front to wage a modern war in those days. And everywhere women went to work to fill jobs left vacant by men donning uniforms and taking new jobs created by the war effort.

I know some of this feeling comes from that filtering of memories that takes place over the course of six decades, and that the past takes on a glow that hides much.

But no one then tried to say that the attack was America's fault. No one tried to absolve the attackers. No one wondered whether it was a good idea to display the U.S. flag.

On the other hand, Japanese-Americans answered the roundup of their families on the West Coast with their blood by forming the most decorated regimental-strength unit in the Army.

Washington, and much of the country was harshly segregated, but those who felt its sting most deeply went to war, both in uniform and as civilians.

On the House side of Capitol Hill, people lived in dirt-floored housing, but their young people went into military service and the residents lined the streets to cry as Franklin Roosevelt's funeral procession passed.

Since then, I can remember clearly where I was and what I was doing when John Kennedy was killed, and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. On all those days, and on other days of national and personal tragedy, people have said the world would never be the same.

And since December 7, 1941, atomic bombs and energy, jet planes, television and personal computers have all become part of our every day lives.

But one thing does remain the same: We endure.

Stroube Smith is a copy editor for The Washington Times and a free-lance writer.


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