Chapter 4-A Day of Infamy
The girls were with Aunt Flo as they gathered around the radio after the dinner dishes were finished to tune in their favorite music program. Since the weather had turned to a more southwesterly wind flow, all the ice and snow melted. By December standards it was quite mild, about 60 degrees; so mild, in fact, that Uncle Ed, John, and Jacob were all whittling on the back porch while talking about the farm and the latest price of pigs at the stockyard down in Saginaw.
Suddenly Aunt Flo came out to the back porch with her face ashen white half covered by her apron. Then she started to cry. Aunt Flo had only cried once since Jacob had ever known her, and that was at his mom’s funeral in early 1939. Thinking something bad had happened to one of the girls the men rushed inside to see, Rebecca Ruth, Jacob’s oldest sister crying. The other girls were whimpering because their older sister was crying. That is when the men stopped abruptly from talking as they heard the crackling sound of the announcer on the radio issuing the news alert that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese.
They listened as the first reports indicated that the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet had been destroyed, and the nation was at a state of high alert. Immediate steps were to be taken to ensure the safety of the nation from this aggression. Regardless, fear gripped their hearts. Jacob looked at his Uncle Ed and his father who both appeared stunned by the news. He saw them grimace. Uncle Ed said, “You know this means war is inevitable.” John nodded as he remembered back to when they had served as doughboys together in the Great War of 1917 against Germany.
John had first met Ruth when he came home with Ed Whittingham for a week while on leave just before shipping out for Germany. Ed and Flo had fixed him up with Flo’s younger sister, Ruth Belle. John wrote back and forth to Ruth for the rest of the war while he was overseas.
When he got back to the states he decided to settle on a farm in Michigan rather than by his parent’s home in Lindsay, Ohio. In the spring of 1923 he married Ruth. He wasn’t a perfect man, by any means. Ruth was a church going woman. He was not about to darken a church door every Sunday, except for the wedding, of course. He did end up going to church, but not as often as Ruth would have wanted him to go. It seemed he always had an excuse, especially after the kids started coming along a year later.
After a particularly bad year for the farm when the crops dried up, Johnny began to drink again. He had stopped drinking after coming back from serving in the military. Three years after the crop failure when John had to sell off half of the farm to pay the debts, Ruth became ill. After she died a few months later in 1939, Johnny felt lost and empty passing the nights away by drinking. It was when he wrecked the car, although surviving the crash unhurt, that Flo and Ed stepped in to care for the girls. Johnny said it was a cow that had got loose from its pasture, and when he swerved to miss the cow in the middle of the road he landed in the ditch. The car was hardly damaged, but the woman he had picked up from the dance hall was killed instantly as her head struck the dashboard snapping her neck. No charges were filed.
His drinking became almost a daily prescription drug after that time to numb his body to the reality that Ruth was gone and for the guilt he felt about the accident. He had felt so ashamed; especially when it became evident he couldn’t take care of the girls. Ed and Flo stepping in to care for the girls was one thing, but now he had been close to blowing it with his son. He said a silent prayer, asking God to keep him on course this time and away from the alcohol.
“I suppose we will probably declare war against Japan and Germany,” Ed said breaking in on the melancholy that John was feeling at that moment. The wind up clock started to chime the top of the hour.” Why, the whole world is going to be at war again I suspect,” John added quickly clearing his throat breaking his silence.
The news was sobering despite the many months of speculation about the possibility of war with Germany. The attack on American soil without seeming provocation had a chilling affect on Johnny. His thoughts wandered back to the sheer fright he felt while in the trenches in Germany. When the whistle blew for them to charge out of the trenches toward the onslaught of German artillery and machine gun fire he remembered many of his war buddies who didn’t make it home from that war. The same would be true for this war he thought solemnly.
He walked outside for a time to clear his mind, and when he came back in after that he stated to Ed and Flo that he wanted to be known simply as John rather than Johnny. After he supposedly had quit drinking and got religion, it just seemed right to abide by his wishes. They sat around the radio for the rest of the afternoon to get whatever news they could. Jacob and his father left late in the evening to go back to the farm talking all the way about the attack, and what it meant for them. “I will need your help Jacob,” John said to his son knowing it wasn’t going to be easy to stop his drinking. Even as he spoke he longed for a drink as the shakes started to convulse in his body. He prayed and the shakes went away.
Shaken from the events of the day before, they listened intently to the radio as President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a war message to Congress.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commence bombing Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu. Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night the Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.”
A strange foreboding overwhelmed Jacob at that moment when President Roosevelt mentioned the Philippines. He was almost overcome by an intense fear and bizarrely felt connected to the events that were occurring at that moment in that part of the world although he had no reason or understanding of why. He shook the depressive feelings off as he continued to concentrate on the words of the president.
“Japan has, therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. 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. As commander in Chief of the army and navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. 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.”
The indication coming from the radio signaled that the Congress was on their feet in one accord applauding the president’s call to arms. A chill of patriotism and excitement ran up the spine of seventeen years old Jacob as he listened with eyes and ears glued to the radio.
“I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces—with the abounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.”
Jacob and John were deeply moved to tears. Jacob had never heard such and outpouring before. John voiced outwardly his approval of what the President was saying. Among the thunderous applause resounding from the radio, President Roosevelt concluded his address:
“I ask the Congress that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
The President’s message jumped out from the radio as a rallying cry to the Congress and the nation. In response to this address on December 8th, Jacob read all the details he could in the local paper about the nation officially declaring war against the Empire of Japan followed by a subsequent declaration of war on Germany and Italy on the 11th with many Latin-American countries following the United States lead. Just as John and Ed predicted instead of just a European war most of the world was once again at war.
After listening to the president’s declaration on the radio John went to the preacher who lived a few roads down from them to ask for his support in helping him to stay clear of alcohol, and also to quell his own emotions and the reoccurring nightmares as he remembered back to the year he spent in the trenches in Germany. John committed to become sober after that time, and began the journey back to reclaim his life and family. He vowed to the preacher and to Jacob that he was going to turn his life around. Although things were at a new beginning with his father it seemed, Jacob still had uneasiness regarding his life’s direction. Several of his friends had gone to the recruiter’s office to enlist.
Jacob tried to enlist, but being only seventeen, the recruiter said he was too young. Frustrated as he watched several go off to fight in the Navy and Army, he settled back into the routine of the farm. The middle of April of 1942 the war effort was not going well. The Philippines, according to what Jacob read in the Weekly Chronicle, were on the verge of collapse despite a brave defense of the American forces there under General Douglas MacArthur.
The last remnant of American presence was being defeated at the hands of the Japanese in the Philippines and in seemingly all parts of the South Pacific. General MacArthur barely escaped Bataan quoting as he left, gave his promise to the thousands left defending the Philippines that “he would return.” Bataan fell and then Corregidor a few short months later with an estimated 69,000 American prisoners taken by the Japanese; a monumental blow to the national morale including Jacob as he sat by the stove hearing the news on the radio.
The fascist regime in Italy and Nazi Germany continued to dominate the Mediterranean with their oppression. Nazi Germany continued bombing London after driving Allied Forces out of Europe except for minor pockets of resistance. A few nations declared themselves as neutral, but they were generally regarded as being under the German umbrella. The German U-boats greatly affected the allied supply lines as they sank the merchant ships containing supplies, planes, and other war materials faster than they could be produced. With reports coming from both theaters of the war of gloom and defeat, some good news prevailed. On April 18th of 1942 Jacob read in the newspaper about a daring group of flyers, under what became known as “Doolittle’s Raid,” that had bombed targets in Tokyo, a major industrial city in Japan.
Jacob kept up with all the news, and he was elated hearing that the Japanese advance had been stalled in New Guinea, even though he wasn’t quite sure where that was. Despite that news of victory he also read about the German troops under General Rommel who continued to dominate in North Africa.
A newsreel before a movie to gave Jacob information that the Allied Forces had not been defeated in North Africa. They continued to hang on to strategic areas, although victory was not yet at hand. Russian troops stalled the German advance into Stalingrad. Jacob listened at every opportunity for any news or updates about the war.
As the Japanese made their presence known in the northern United States territory in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, welcome news came of a stunning war victory for the United States at Midway. Jacob rejoiced with his dad at the news. In the midst of both the good and bad news from the war front, President Roosevelt informed the nation of an impending draft to begin in November of 1942. The initial draft would affect those who were between the ages of 18-19. Jacob received a letter in the mail from Dow Chemical asking if he was still interested in working for them. Jacob, who had continued to work on the family farm and for neighbors, still had some aspirations of getting into the Army, but with so many being killed and his life starting to fall into place his patriotism was waning. By the end of April 1942, Jacob was working full-time at Dow Chemical. There were several openings because of so many men volunteering for the service. It was a bitter sweet feeling being offered the job knowing that others were out fighting, but at the same time he was only seventeen. He felt fortunate to be able to have such a good paying job of $1.75 an hour at just seventeen. Because of his work he felt sheltered from the war, and turned inward to his good fortune.
Jacob was thrust into an adult world of life in the city totally opposite his country upbringing. Although he was still staying on the farm with his father, helping out all he could, he acquired a new set of friends. Earning more money than he had ever seen before, he saved up to buy a new Ford truck. Jacob’s new friends convinced him that a Harley motorcycle would be a better fit, so that is what he bought. It was a beauty. The Harley was a burgundy monster; not the biggest, but he believed the sharpest Harley built to date.
Jacob realized he was not saving much money, but he was enjoying life. His father told him he would have a different picture riding a Harley when it was 20 degrees below zero. Jacob shrugged off the gloom talk as he carefully positioned his blue biker hat snapped smartly around his neck and head. Adjusting his goggles he placed his cigarettes under his sleeve.
This was a daily routine as off he went allowing the roar of the bike to intentionally startle the neighbor’s dog to get it barking. Jacob pulled into work on his Harley making sure all the girls he passed saw him as he drove by. Not wearing a jacket, he hated to admit that his father was right about it getting chilly.
He didn’t smoke much, but the cigarette package tucked under his rolled up t-shirt came with the image while he was at work or out with friends at the pool hall. During those first few months of independence Jacob became especially enamored with a young girl he met while at the county fair early that fall. She was a cute sandy blonde senior at the local high school. She was at the county fair with her friends. Not much happened at the fair because of the war rationing, but that didn’t matter. He was in love for the first time in his life.
The first time Jacob met Susan’s father was at the soda fountain where she worked. Jacob was slurping a malted shake. “Hi Dad!” she said. “So this is your young man you have been talking about!” Susan’s father, Sean Bradley responded. After a formal introduction was made, Mr. Bradley said to Jacob, “Why don’t you come by the house this Saturday night, and we will get better acquainted?” Jacob could tell it was more than an invitation; rather a requirement if he desired to continue seeing his daughter. Jacob looked into Mr. Bradley’s brazened eyes.
Jacob tried to squeeze out of the invitation, but Mr. Bradley was very insistent, saying, “You will want to come by if you want to continue seeing my daughter!” “Daddy,” Susan exclaimed, “that is a little harsh.” However, Jacob took it as an honor.
“Mr. Bradley cared enough about his daughter to make sure the guy she was hanging with was an okay guy,” he thought. Jacob accepted the invitation saying, “Saturday night then.” After the quizzing by the Bradley’s he began seeing Susan Marie more and more, but the war increasingly became a focal point. Rationing of gasoline and other items were becoming an tiresome issue.
The casualty list of the war became a daily reminder that things were different than they were before December 7th of the previous year. When Jacob was within days of turning eighteen he decided not to enlist. “Not that he was afraid of going to war or anything like that,” as Jacob displayed his reasons to Mr. Bradley. He was just enjoying his new life, his new girlfriend, and his job too much to leave it all to fight in a distant war on the other side of the world.
However, a haunting nightmare continued to plague his mind with a dark, sinister cloud. His dad, John, his Aunt Flo and Uncle Ed, and his sisters threw him a grand eighteenth birthday, complete with carrot cake with eighteen candles. Rebecca Ruth, Sarah Louise, and Ruth Ann got in the act as they cranked some ice cream for the party. Also in attendance was Susan, Susan’s immediate family and the preacher and his wife. Overall, it was a great day. That same week he went into the courthouse to register for the draft. It was now the end of October 1942.