Monday, December 7, 2009

A Date Which May Not Always Live in Infamy

Today is a hard day for me, one of the special days when I particularly miss my dad. He was nineteen and his brother twenty, fresh off the farm in the Missouri Ozarks and stationed at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on December 7th, 1941.

My father left behind an autobiography in which he describes laying in his grandmother’s yard trying to take a nap in the sun, but bees kept buzzing around and annoying him. He waked up to find himself in his bunk at Kaneohe and that the bees were Japanese Zeroes.

His first thought when he looked out at the flames already rising from the tarmac and hangar area were for his older brother who had been on duty there overnight. He pulled on his dungarees and bolted out the door looking for him. It was chaos with sailors running every which way trying to find a means of shooting back. The wounded were walking around dazed and the scene was surreal to my dad.

After helping pull a PBY from a burning hangar, he finally found his brother and together they mounted a 50 cal. machine gun in the waist hatch of a PBY what was empty of gas and being worked on. While Dad fed the ammo, his brother trained the machine gun on the Zeroes, successfully shooting down one, possibly the first “kill” of WWII, but in the confusion of that morning, nothing is certain.

What is certain is the fact that December 7th 1941 changed the lives of those two boys and a lot of others forever. My father wrote of a disconnect that happened that day as he was catapulted from boyhood to manhood and the sense of loss of innocence. He said that it changed him forever. For one thing, Dad was scheduled to take a test for Annapolis on December 8th, a dream he’d had since childhood. December 7th changed all that and the course of his life.

I have a picture of two baby-faced boys standing in a bomb crater with their 50 cal machine gun (after the first wave they were made to move it to the crater which was less of a target than the PBY), my father with binoculars and my uncle shielding his eyes from the Hawaiian sun, both with their eyes on the sky. I had seen the picture when my father found it in the National Archives, but I didn’t fully appreciate the impact it had to have had on them until I had teenage boys of my own and realized that they had been babies.

Moreover, I had a new appreciation for what my grandmother went through. She had been in Missouri visiting her parents at that time and had lain awake with her cousin listening to the radio reports and wondering if her two oldest children were dead or alive. Back before email, cell phones or even good long distance, it could take days and weeks for people to get letters and telegrams. She immediately returned to her home in Vancouver, Washington by train and reached there before a telegram from my dad and uncle arrived telling the family that they were alive and well. In the meantime it was erroneously reported in the Greenfield, Missouri weekly paper that the boys had been killed. A lot of misinformation came out of the chaos of that day.

Now December 7th goes unnoticed by the general population. The Greatest Generation is disappearing into history and the Baby Boomers are graying. Someday the words “Remember Pearl Harbor” will have about as much meaning as “Remember the Maine.” That only ads to my sadness this day.


Grandma L said...

It's hard to believe it's been 68 years. What a horrible nightmarish day it was for us that lived during that time.

Jo said...

My mother remembers coming home from church that Sunday and hearing the reports on the radio. Shortly thereafter, her two brothers were in the fray; both in France. She spoke of the horror and almost disbelief they all experienced; the shock. December 7th is a date to remember for me, but does my daughter understand the significance? I don't know. Maybe I'll have to tell her about how it affected her family.

Jimh. said...

It has taken me this much time to search down and find that you have a blog of your own. I have been missing something very special. Let me tender my apologies for not taking the time to look it up before this! Excellent blog! I should love to see your father's autobiography! I imagine his first person account is of great interest!!