Posted by Crista Cowan on December 6, 2011 in Moments in Time

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…

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Twitter


  1. Rebekah

    On this day my husband and I always remember his first cousin, a 19 year old sailor on board the USS Arizona when the Japanese bombs rained down on her decks. The forward magazine exploded and dear Vladimir Mendoza Romero is still there along with 1,177 of his shipmates. They all made the supreme sacrifice and will be remembered with love and honor. We take the time to place virtual flowers on his memorial site on Find A Grave.

  2. Mary Morr Robustelli

    Had a big surprise party for my 21st birthday on Dec. 6, 1941. The next morning all the dearest friends came back to my house and we sat and listened to FDR declare war on Japan. Such happiness one day and extreme sadness the next. All of my young men friends were called to active duty including my brother, brothers in law, cousins and my husband.. They were all away at least one and 1/2 years to two years. Some in Europe some in the Pacific. One of my friends is still on the Arizona. Have visited Hawaii at least 5 times and always drawn to the Memorial. God Bless all who served and all who are now serving.

  3. I know my father was a lieutenant commander in the navy and he also went to intelligence school. I grew up in a family that did not discuss religion even though we went to church or talk about the military. So I do not have much to offer to say. I am proud for all that served the armed forces in general and Pearl Harbor. It all kind of leaves me sad, for I don’t have my Daddy any more. May God bless all those that are in service, retired from service and those that lost loved one that lost their lives serving our great country, USA. Thank you all.

  4. Debby Slagle

    I have read these posts, and feel much sadness for those that lost their lives, and loved ones. I once was a military wife. Thankfully through peace time. My heart goes out to those families that are experiencing todays termole, and those that have loved and lost. God Bless our Military past present and future. Mostly today, the men and women of December 7, 1941.

  5. Monika

    Andy, I am sorry to use this site to ask you this question. But: do you still have the same e-mail address? After our last communications re: the “google” search, I received numerous e-mails showing YOUR e-mail address, but with a blank subject line, or inappropriate language in the subject line. I have not opened these e-mails because I have had this experience with hackers before. So, I just wanted to make sure that you still have the same e-mail address before I use it, and open myself up to this hacker! I hope I am wrong and you did not get “hacked” into.

  6. A great speech can truly make history. For you. Here’s how. by Amy Miller, President of

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