I’m not sure why I am surprised by how many of you were there or had family who were there. I have read every one of your stories as they have streamed in over the past week. Those first hand accounts help us remember the living history of pivotal events in the world. You remind us of the emotions and the details that often get scrubbed from the factual retelling of circumstances from which we are far removed.
Most of us weren’t there. We didn’t have family there. Seventy years ago my grandparents and great-grandparents were living in California, Arkansas, and Texas. None of them lived in Hawaii. None of them had even been to Hawaii. But, what happened on the morning of December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor echoed all the way to the mainland.
One grandfather was in the National Guard out of Arkansas. He was ordered to active duty in 1941. Stationed first at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, then moved with his regiment to Camp Bowie, Texas for additional training, he maintained a long distance courtship with his sweetheart. Before long he wrote her to join him in Texas where an army chaplain officiated my grandparents marriage on December 6, 1942. They had a short time together before my grandfather was shipped overseas. My grandmother moved to California where she was employed at Douglas Aircraft. They didn’t see one another again until the war was over.
My other grandpa, raised in the home of a World War I veteran and career army man, enlisted less than eight months after he married my grandma. He served first in the European Theatre and was then transferred to the South Pacific without a visit home in between. My grandma, Doris, worked, took in roommates, and saved to purchase a home before he returned in late 1945.
Grandma Doris is now 89 years old. She is the only one of my grandparents still alive. I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with her at her home in Los Angeles last month. While there I thought about the significant historical events that have occurred in her lifetime. I asked her a lot of questions and realized that sometimes her memory requires a little bit of encouragement.
One afternoon I played for her an audio of President Roosevelt’s speech to Congress on the day following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I asked if she remembered December of 1941.
“The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation…All measures must be taken for our defense…No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
“Oh, yes!” she said. “I remember. We were huddled around the radio for days. We talked about the war before that – what was going on in Europe. After that, the war is all we talked about. I had friends there. Fellows I went to school with. Lots of them never came home.”
I tried to wheedle a few more details out of her. But, they got lost or confused in a mind dim with age. So, I turned on some Glenn Miller music and had her re-tell the story of how she met my grandfather that same year, 1941. Not a detail lost in THAT story.
As I have read through your memories, in preparation for this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, I am again reminded of how important it is to record our living history. Family history isn’t just about names and dates and places. It’s about real people who experienced very real things, people who often made difficult decisions and great sacrifices. Capture the emotions and the personal perspective of pivotal events in the world, or crucial events in our individual lives, before they are lost. Then, share them with others so we can all gain a greater understanding of our common history.
Until next time…