Remember Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, my parents and I lived in this little house in Beeville, Texas.

I have always been blessed/cursed with a long and vivid memory. When I was almost one year old, my ten-year old uncle had climbed a tree and lost his footing. His neck lodged in a tree fork and he had started wailing in strangulation for help. I can still hear those mournful sounds to this day. It all took place in the back yard on a visit to my grandma’s house in San Antonio in late 1938.

Then I remember my dad ripping off his shoes and racing toward and up the tree. He pulled Uncle Albert free and carried him  back down to the ground. I remember Uncle Albert choking, clearing his throat, and crying, and everybody gathered around as dad took care of him, talking him out of his fear, reassuring him that things were OK.

Then it all goes blank. That’s all I ever remembered of the near family tragedy, but the sights and sounds of the small part I do recall are as vivid as if they had happened yesterday. That being said, here is all I remember of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the day the Imperial Navy of the Empire of Japan launched that devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It was a warm winter afternoon in Beeville, Texas, the town where I was born and probably would have grown up, had it not been for World War II. My dad was a 31-year old Dodge-Plymouth dealer in Beeville back then. My mom was a stay-at-home housewife who was only days away from giving birth to my little brother John. Life was good. And all in Beeville, as per usual, was deadly quiet. The little town fifty miles north of Corpus Christi back then sure was, and largely still is, a good place to get caught up on your sleep.

It was early afternoon as I prepared my daily resistance to a nap, but mom and dad seemed a little distracted that Sunday from making the usual big deal of it. They huddled in the living room, almost leaning into the console radio and into the flow of non-stop anxious words that came pouring forth in ways that were most unfamiliar to me. Most of the time, the radio played at night, when mom and dad listened to their shows.

This was different. Mom and dad had worried looks on their faces. I started to worry too. I just didn’t know what to worry about and mom and dad were too busy listening to even notice what was going on with me. They just told me to be quiet and go play. And as I went out the screen door to throw a ball around by myself, the telephone rang. It would continue to ring for the rest of the day. And this was at a time when the phone was mainly used to communicate important messages. People in Beeville didn’t visit over the phone in 1938. If you wanted to socialize with somebody in 1938, you drove to that other person’s house and knocked on their door or just caught them outside sitting on their porch as a sign they were open to visitation.

Sunday, December 7, 1941 in Beeville, Texas was not about visiting. It was all business. I had no concept for what it was back then. I just knew that it was out of the ordinary and a little scary. As aunts and uncles called, came, and went, many of them began to express angry tones and some of the women shed tears. I started hearing phrases, first from the radio and then from family and neighbors. Names like “Pearl Harbor” and phrases like “Japanese attack” began to enlarge into memories. President Roosevelt spoke late in the day over the radio. Everyone seemed comforted by the fact he did and determined to do something.

Determined to do what? And about what? The whole thing made no sense to me.

It made no sense until I finally heard the radio announcer say that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had killed maybe thousands of Americans and destroyed most of the ships in our Navy. Now the reverse sense kicked in. We were supposed to pay them back by killing a bunch of their people in return.

I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Pearl Harbor meant that America had now been pulled into the world’s true first world war on both its two greatest oceans and nothing would ever again be the same. WWII meant that they stopped making cars and that dad was now flat-out of the new car business. Dad was not eligible for the draft due to his multiple dependents, but he learned welding as a defense factory skill and moved the family to Houston to take work at Brown’s Shipyard.

Dad didn’t know it, but he was delivering me to my true hometown when he moved us here from Beeville. The physical move took place on my 5th birthday, December 31, 1942. And the whole thing had been set in motion by the events at Pearl Harbor, a little more than a year earlier on December 7, 1941.

Remember Pearl Harbor? How I could I forget?


4 Responses to “Remember Pearl Harbor”

  1. Doug S. Says:

    My Mother told me last night about her oldest Brother that was home on leave from the Army when they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her memories were still vivid after 70 years.

    He was later killed near Guadacanal in 1945.

    He was a huge Baseball fan and my Grandmother and Mother made sure I got his collection of Wheatie Box covers. I was born 13+ years after his death but Pearl Harbor Day always makes me eager to someday meet the Uncle that shares a love of Baseball and the Cardinals.

  2. Patrick Lopez Says:

    Exactly one month before my fifth birthday ,December 7 , 1941 ,Japan bombed Pearl harbor.
    I was in our living room reading the Sunday comics when the news broke on the radio, my parents were out but my grandmother and I listened to the report of the destruction in Hawaii , I did not know than what a world war meant, confused I asked grandma what was happening, She explained it was going to change our lives forever, I still didn’t understand the implications.

    A week later the news film of the destruction was blasted on the big screens at the movies, vivid images of bombs exploding , ships sinking , sailors running for cover amid total chaos and destruction.

    A sad beginning to a young boy’s life, My father 37 with one child was in no danger of being drafted into the service, but two years later at 39 , sure enough in 1943 he was suddenly called into service, during a troop buildup for the impending invasion of Japan .
    Worrying about his life in service during that world war , mom and I scratching out a miserable life without him . It
    was pure torture for a boy just starting school . All my friends and classmates had fathers, uncles, brothers drafted into service, everyone was in the same boat, everywhere the whole country was mobilized to fight in World War 2.

    Those words about the invasion a “Day of Infamy “ will always be stamped onto my brain , an era of enormous grief & terror
    for our nation and its citizens .
    FDR ‘s death was a shock to our family , it came in a series as another dismal event during those war years .We shared our grief with the whole nation at the loss of the great man .

    I remember that news film showing the funeral dirge passing on a Washington D. C. street, Arthur Geoffrey describing the procession, His voice breaking into tears upon seeing Truman now our new leader, calling for hope and support he said sobbing ”there he is ,our new President , God bless him and protect him and our country “, a moving sad moment of a falling hero ,,,FRD rest in peace.

    Truman took the challenge with strong leadership , made crucial military decisions that ultimately brought an end to that terrible war.

    Pat Lopez

  3. Shirley Virdon Says:

    I have vivid memories of that life changing day in December of 1941 also. It was a dreary winter day—-a Sunday—-and the events of that day changed all of our lives forever. We listened on our radio——-no TV then——hanging on every word that our President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spoke over those not always clear airwaves. It was so sad for all of us.Many tears were shed on that “Day of Infamy”! My Dad talked about how dreadful war could be—–He remembered World War I—–He was too young to serve at that time and would be too old for this new war. Though none of my immediate family went to the Armed Services, we did what we could on the home front. We collected iron and aluminum and saved everything that could be used at all.
    There was rationing of gas, sugar, cigarettes, no new cars, blackouts in cities along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Many people moved from both Coasts to the Midwest so they would feel safer if the enemies should invade or bomb our Mainland. That was how life was changed after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It also proved how resilient Americans can be! As always, we were (and still are) proud to be Americans!!

  4. Marco Garcia Says:

    With all die respect to the reason of your article. Which by the way, thank you for sharing.

    Iam wondering about that house on the picture. I believe its where my family and I libe now. Could you tell me where it was located!?

    Thank you so much!!!!

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