Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day Interviews

This interview was originally published last year on Pearl Harbor Day 2010.

Our visit to Pearl Harbor in 2010

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on 7 December 1941, a day President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed "a date which shall live in infamy." In 2003 my daughter interviewed several relatives about the bombing of Pearl Harbor for a class assignment. Here are her transcribed notes of those interviews.  Her first question "Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and what was your reaction?"

Phyllis (age 67 years at the time of the interview): I remember that day because I was six years old and the only thing I remember about it really is my mother crying because my brother was..., I had five brothers and the oldest one was sixteen I think at the time... and she knew that he was going to have to go to war. That really upset my mother. [Two of her five brothers ended up in the service; one in the Pacific and the other in Occupied Europe]

Shirley (age 76 years at the time at the time of the interview): I remember that. I was standing in the kitchen, ironing, I was ironing a blouse, getting ready to go to church. I heard the news, and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t absorb what it actually meant to me. It really didn’t all sink in until later, but then I heard Kate Smith coming on and singing “God Bless America.” And standing there crying my eyes out as I ironed, because it was so touching. I was beginning to realize what it was going to mean to the country.

Robert (age 77 years at the time of this interview, he has since passed away): I was listening to a football game at my house on 7 Dearborn Avenue. I was about your age, in high school. And my reaction was “Japan? Attacking us? We’ll have them wiped out by Christmas time.”

Shirley: At the time.... I’m a nurse. And I was taking care of a lady whose father was the ambassador to Japan. At the time of the war, before, and during the war. And Ambassador Grew, his name was, from Manchester (MA), and he was... She showed me lots of papers and things that he had written about what he claims in writing. And they showed me a copy of the letter, the family owns. That he had told the president, that Japan was about to do something, he didn’t know that Pearl Harbor was actually going to happen, but it was going to be Pearl Harbor. But he knew because of his position, and contacts, that there was about to be some sort of a war with Japan, and he was ignored completely. When he went and had an interview, I saw the letter that he wrote to the president, Roosevelt, and told him what was happening, and what steps he thought should be taken. Because, perhaps, president Roosevelt was old and ill at the time, he wasn’t using good judgment and he never furthered that information on. And then Pearl Harbor happened.

Note: I still have the audio tapes of her interviews. I remember she was very serious about the assignment, since September 11th, 2001 was only just two years earlier during her first week of high school.  This is especially memorable because my uncle has passed away since the interview. My aunt, uncle and Mom spoke for over an hour about the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and the home front during World War II. By the end of the war, my uncle Robert was serving as a paratrooper medic in Europe.

After the interviews we went over
to Patton Park in Hamilton, Massachusetts
where my daughter climbed on top of
General Patton's tank
(he was a resident of Hamilton,
the town where my Mom grew up)

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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