- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….

President Franklin D.

Roosevelt, War Message to Congress, Dec. 8, 1941

Like most young men who had spent Saturday night on the town, First Class Petty Officer William Locke expected to sleep in on that Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor on Oahu 65 years ago today. And sleep he did, until the air raid alarm went off.

“I jumped out of bed, put on my trousers and looked out the porthole,” remembers Mr. Locke, who joined the Navy in 1938 to see the world outside his native Tennessee. What he saw from his porthole was something he hadn’t counted on.

“There was a plane with a red circle on the side going down right in front of me. I’ll never forget seeing that gunner engulfed in flames.”

It was shortly before 8 o’clock in the morning, Hawaii time. Mr. Locke, today a resident of the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) in Northwest, was 25 then and aboard Adm. Husband E. Kimmel’s flagship, USS Pennsylvania, in dry dock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.

In the moments that followed the Japanese surprise attack, five of eight battleships were destroyed, sunk, capsized or beached. Most Hawaii-based combat airplanes, 188 of them, were destroyed. More than 2,400 Americans were killed.


It was December 7, 1941. That date, the one that would “live in infamy,” became a point of intersection for individuals whose lives, up to that moment, were heading in far different directions.

“Where were you when the bombs hit?” became a catchphrase for a generation, just as “Where were you when the president was shot?” was for the one that followed, and “Where were you when the planes hit the towers?” is for yet another.

Like the death of a president, the murder of a great leader or a sudden cataclysm, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a watershed event. Afterward the world, and Washington, would never be the same.

On the Pennsylvania, Mr. Locke was still struggling to make sense of what was happening when he was ordered to clear the area so the ship’s guns could be brought into action. The Pennsylvania was one of the first to return fire.

“The guy who was with me, Watson, stepped into a 500-pound exploding bomb and was knocked backward into me,” Mr. Locke says. “I took him to sick bay, but the doctor just looked at him and shook his head. You could hear people all around you calling for help.”

The battleship, hit by two bombs, had 15 men killed and 38 wounded, with 14 missing in action.

At Oahu’s Wheeler Army Airfield, the principal fighter base for the Army Air Corps in Hawaii, Francis Stueve, 89 now and also living at AFRH here, was a private in the Air Corps and already up when the first wave of Japanese planes came over.

“I was in the mess hall eating chow,” he says. “At first we thought it was just one or two crazy people, for Chinese New Year or something.”

Two waves of planes bombed and strafed the field, leaving 83 aircraft destroyed, 33 men killed and 73 wounded..

A drowsy capital

Half a world away, the nation’s capital was still a “sleepy Southern town,” according to Honora Thompson, a Mount Pleasant resident who had just gone off to college at William and Mary in the fall of 1941. But changes were already on the way.

Although not yet officially engaged, the nation was mobilizing for war.

By 1941, the District’s population was growing by 50,000 a year, according to David Brinkley’s “Washington Goes To War.”

Many of the newcomers were “government girls,” young women who poured into the capital from all over the country to work for the government as the war in Europe grew ever more threatening — young women like Laverne Craig, crammed into hastily constructed dormitories or living two or three to a room and sleeping in shifts.

Ms. Craig, in her late 20s then, was luckier than most: She got to live with her sister Mildred in a Murphy-bed apartment near Washington Circle. And her salary of $120 a week was double what she had earned as a secretary back in Kansas.

Yet on Dec. 6, Washington was still a city caught up in the mundane. No one seemed to be expecting so sudden a blow.

The Dec. 6 edition of the Evening Star, the granddaddy of District newspapers, in business since 1852, gives a glimpse:

• Baseball star Hank Greenberg had a tooth extracted.

• The penny-a-half-pint milk program, which would benefit 25,000 students in the District’s public schools, had just been approved by the Surplus Marketing Administration.

• Peace talks here were delayed while awaiting a reply from “Tokio.”

• Allied fleets were on 24-hour watch to meet any surprise Japanese attack in the Far East.

• “The Little Foxes” was playing at the Apex Theater on Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest.

• The Nazis had just launched a “great assault” on Moscow.

• Paul Calloway was scheduled to give an organ recital at the National Cathedral.

• Christmas Seals were on sale at Woodward and Lothrop.

• And for Sunday, the Evening Star was planning a special section: “The Pacific Crisis — Will It Mean War?”

Meanwhile, native Washingtonian Ruby Kendros, who had just started at Strayer College downtown, was in Annapolis with relatives planning to attend the Saturday night ball at the Naval Academy.

“I remember how cold it was,” Ms. Kendros, now Ruby Pelecanos, says. “I wore my evening wrap and silver slippers.”

Then the world changed.

Waking to catastrophe

The fact of the unprovoked attack seemed to seep into people’s consciousness, and not everyone took it the same way.

In Northwest, Roscoe Taylor — now a deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church at Ninth and P streets Northwest but then a student at Shaw Junior High School and by 1945 an 18-year-old Army private first class in the Army of Occupation in Korea — was home with his parents and one brother.

“It was quite a shock to hear the announcement,” he says. “We were very alarmed.”

Yet in Williamsburg, Ms. Thompson, in her first year at William and Mary, heard the news at the post office, where she had gone to pick up mail at her post office box.

“It didn’t mean that much to me,” says the woman who later went to work for the nation’s first intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services. “I was too busy with term papers.”

Perhaps nothing illustrates so well how long it took the public to “get” the news as long-ago accounts of that Sunday’s football game. It was the last professional game of the season, and more than 27,000 spectators had jammed Griffith Stadium to see the Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles.

By halftime, according to the Evening Star, the crowd knew something “extraordinary” was happening, although no official announcement had been made.

“There were constant calls for various newspapermen believed to be at the game to get in touch with their offices immediately and for high-ranking Army and Navy officers to call their departments,” the Star reported on Dec. 8.

The anger rises

Meanwhile, outside the Japanese Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, an angry crowd was gathering.

District Commissioner Guy Mason was playing golf when informed of the attack, according to the Washington Times Herald on Dec. 8. He promptly drove to the embassy and found the crowd swarming the gates, with no police presence. He pleaded with them not to do anything “for which our nation may be criticized.” Police arrived and moved the crowd across the street.

The next day, the Washington Daily News ran a picture of a woman who lived at the “fashionable apartment house next to the Japanese Embassy” allowing her dog, a Pekingese named Togo, to defecate on the embassy grounds.

Crowds also gathered outside the White House and the Capitol, numbering more than a thousand by the time the football game and the afternoon movies had let out.

Marines with fixed bayonets guarded the Capitol entrances. When Michigan Rep. Clare Eugene Hoffman arrived at the gate he pushed past the guard, declaring, “I don’t have a card and I don’t need any.” He was pursued — and finally identified by other guards in the building, according to the Dec. 8 edition of the Evening Star.

Private airplanes were grounded.

Federal agents rounded up Japanese journalist Kiyoshi Kawakami from his home at 3729 Morrison St. NW. Mr. Kawakami, a correspondent for several newspapers in Tokyo, had lived in the United States for 40 years and was married to an American citizen; he was allowed to telephone his wife from Union Station to say he was being taken to an unknown destination.

Suddenly, Washington was a city at war.

The nation engages

Of course, so was the whole country.

In the San Joaquin Valley of Central California William Calbert, in his early 20s, was helping his aunt bring in the crop on her farm when the news came over the radio.

“By the time the announcement came I was already registered for the draft,” he says.

That young man is today the Rev. William Calbert, a pulpit associate at Shiloh Baptist Church and deeply involved in its veterans’ oral history project. He joined the Army in 1942, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 and was at Bastogne before the Battle of the Bulge, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1969 after a second Army stint as a chaplain.

Not everyone got the news as it happened, particularly those in rural areas.

“At the time, 1941, there were still many households without radio,” says Wilbert Holcomb, a 10th grader in Spartanburg County, S.C., when the news came.

“Many of those who did have radios, the radios were battery operated, so people didn’t always have them on. Many did not get the word until Monday.”

Mr. Holcomb, today a member of Shiloh Baptist, got the news soon enough: He was in the Army by 1943, at age 19.

“Everybody was drafted,” he says. “You were in service if you could walk.”

The home front

Sooner or later, lives began to change. People who weren’t in the service worked in defense plants, grew their own food, became air-raid wardens or made gifts for the troops. Most things were rationed and everything else was saved — which wasn’t much of an adjustment, since during the Depression few people had much anyway.

In Tacoma, Wash., Robert Armstrong, 9 years old at the time of the attack, collected red and blue stamps for war bonds and helped his fellow students in the junior high and high schools collect scrap metal.

“I had had my eye on dad’s old car for years, an old Model-T Ford,” says the 74-year-old, who joined the Army in 1949 and now lives at AFRH. “But it went to the scrap pile along with everything else.”

Women painted their legs with special makeup by Max Factor, because nylons were needed for parachutes. Little boys played cops and robbers with toy six-shooters made of pressed sawdust and glue, because every bit of metal went toward real guns.

In the District, Ms. Kendros left Strayer in December to work for the government. She remembers family: “My little brother was knitting scarves for soldiers,” she says. “My uncle would put on his helmet and walk around when the sirens went off.”

In Northern Iowa, 13-year-old Donald Cooper — who joined the Air Corps out of high school and now lives at AFRH with his wife, also a veteran — used to hitch up the horses for trips to town from the family farm in order to save gas. And he remembers getting out of school early in order to bag hemp plants for rope.

For many, the cement that held the nation together was its president.

“He gave us such hope,” Mrs. Pelecanos says today. “Everybody thought he was like a god.”

“We loved him,” Mr. Holcomb says. “During the Depression, farmers had really hit bottom, especially African American farmers. My family ended up on a plantation along with 26 other families. When Roosevelt came in he started programs that helped people make it.”

Not everyone liked Roosevelt. Ms. Thompson was one; she refused to leave her desk at OSS to watch FDR’s funeral cortege pass by in April 1945.

For others, the war years meant discovering their personal worth.

Both Ms. Craig and her sister, Mildred Conrad, visited the World War II Memorial shortly after it opened to the public in 2004. The two posed for a photograph in front of the section devoted to the “government girls.”

“There were a lot of people watching, and when we were finished, they actually applauded,” remembers Florence Salisbury, Ms. Conrad’s daughter.

“People kept saying, ‘We want to thank you for your service.’ ”

Preserving the past

To find out more about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, head first for the William G. McGowan Theater of the U.S. National Archives, Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, today at noon for a special full-length, 85-minute screening of John Ford’s documentary, “December 7th.”. The Hollywood director knew how to tell a story, and the 20-minute version of the 1943 film won an Academy Award for best short-subject documentary.

The Archives will follow with two other screenings of the 35-minute version: At 11 a.m. Dec. 12 in Room G-24 of the National Archives Research Center, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; and at 11 a.m. Dec. 14 at the National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park.

For more on Washington’s response to Pearl Harbor, visit the Washingtoniana Division of the Martin Luther King Memorial Library. View, on microfilm, the major newspapers of the day, including the Washington Times-Herald, the Evening Star, the Daily News and The Washington Post. Ninth and G streets Northwest. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call the Washingtoniana Division at 202/727-1213 or see www.dclibrary.org/washingtoniana/index.html.

Or go online with the Library of Congress’ “After the Day of Infamy: Man on the Street Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor.” Under the direction of folklorist Alan Lomax, in the days and months following the attack researchers produced 12 hours of audio interviews across the United States, including Washington. Interviews are available as audio files or in transcript form. See memory.loc.gov/ammem/afcphhtml.

Years pass for war generation

Where are they now? What happened to the folks mentioned in the story after the attack?

m Robert Armstrong joined the Army in 1949 and ended up being part of the Army of Occupation in Japan. He lives at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington.

m The Rev. William Calbert was called to a 3 a.m. meeting while in England and found himself listening to the “most eloquent, profanity-laced vocabulary I ever heard,” courtesy of Gen. George S. Patton. He landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day and was at Bastogne before the Battle of the Bulge. He went to school on the GI Bill, and then to seminary, where he became an ordained minister. He served in Korea with a tank battalion as chaplain, then did a stint at Fort Knox and came to Washington in 1968 after rounding out his service as a chaplain in Vietnam. He received the French Legion of Honor on the 60th anniversary of D-Day and delivered the benediction at the groundbreaking ceremony for the World War II Memorial here in Washington in 1995.

m Donald Cooper joined the Air Corps out of high school and worked on air defense radar and the Distant Early Warning System (DEWS) during the Cold War. “After I was in, I thought it was a lot better than farming,” he says now. He and his wife, a veteran herself, live at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington.

m Laverne Craig continued as a “government girl” long after the war and long after her sister had left their New Hampshire Avenue flat to be married. She currently lives in an assisted living facility in suburban Washington.

m Wilbert Holcomb entered the service in 1943 but was discharged a year later because of eye problems with the proviso that he spend a year doing defense work. He moved to Detroit and built tanks and then studied agriculture at South Carolina State University on the GI Bill. He worked with the Cooperative Extension Service of South Carolina, first in South Carolina and later in Washington. In 1958 he was recruited by the Agency for International Development and was sent by them to Liberia and later to Vietnam. He retired from the government in 1988.

m William Locke, who had spent the Saturday afternoon before the attack watching the Shrine Bowl game between the University of Hawaii and Oregon’s Willamette University, was finally able to get word to his parents that he was still alive after wire services erroneously reported that his ship, the USS Pennsylvania, had been lost with all hands. He did escort duty throughout the war. He is a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and lives at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington after being relocated from the AFRH in Gulfport, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina.

m Ruby Kendros, now Ruby Pelecanos, continued to work until she began to have children. After they were grown she returned to the government and then worked at Geico. Always active in the Greek-American community, she is the mother of writer George Pelecanos.

m Francis Stueve, who is originally from Baltimore, spent more than 20 years in the service and retired as a staff sergeant, serving with both the Army Air Corps and the Air Force. He lives at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington.

m Roscoe Taylor joined the Army in 1946 and was sent to Korea. “It was kind of a rough time,” he remembers. “The troop ships had no air conditioning and no fresh water. We took showers in sea water and existed on Australian K rations and C rations.” He is now a deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest.

m Honora Thompson transferred to Bryn Mawr from William and Mary and graduated on D-Day, June 6, 1944. She continued to work for the government and in 1948 got the first television on her block. She stayed in the Mount Pleasant house she was raised in until just a couple of years ago, when she moved to a retirement community.

FDR says December 7 will live on

Snippets of video and audio clips have acquainted most Americans with the first sentence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Dec. 8, 1941, war message to Congress, but only the speech’s full text conveys the depth of America’s astonishment at Japan’s treachery — and the sense that “shock and awe” were born at Pearl Harbor.

Here’s the message in full.

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

This morning Japanese forces attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications of the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take for us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

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