The 9-11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. will be a seminal moment for the current generation. The previous generation had JFK’s assassination as its historic moment. For my parents’ generation it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which pulled the U.S. into World War II.
For these major events, the people who lived through them all have an answer to the question “Where were you when …?”
In honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day today, I asked my parents for their recollections of Dec. 7, 1941.
My father, James, was 12 at the time and living in Fairchild, Wis.
“When that event occurred we were sitting at the table (huddled around the radio) listening to all the things that were going on. It was a shocking thing,” he said.
Many Wisconsin families were out and about when the attack occurred on that Sunday morning in Hawaii. Many people were at church or socializing.
“At that time of year, many of the men would be out (deer) hunting,” Dad told me.
“But as soon as it became known – there was no question – everybody hung around the radio to find out what in the Sam Hill was going to go on,” he said. (Sam Hill is one of my Dad’s favorite expressions – a polite way of saying “what the hell?”) ”Of course, the draft was really promoted from then on.”
Nobody had televisions back then, so the radio was the most immediate way to get information.
My mother, Alice, was 8 at the time and living in Jim Falls, Wis.
“When I first heard about it, I said, ‘Where’s Pearl Harbor?’ I was just a little girl. And Hawaii was not a state. It was a territory,” she said.
Hawaii didn't become a state until Aug. 21, 1959.
One family story, likely apocryphal, had Alice’s cousin, Philip, overhearing chatter on a short wave radio about the impending attack. Philip was into electronics, she says.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote that the date of the Pearl Harbor attack “will live in infamy” still has power today, she says. The attack killed 2,402 and wounded 1,282.
For more on the attack on Pearl Harbor, read the entry on Wikipedia.
Photo: Damage to the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor. (Credit: Wikipedia)