When I was five years old, I sat in the darkened theater in our little town watching a two-year-old film.
The theater, or picture shows as they were called back then in Neolithic times, was named ‘The Rogue’. The movie was ‘Wizard of Oz’, and the day was Sunday.
Dad was treating Mom and me to the town’s Sunday afternoon matinee, which always began at one pm, ran only one time, and then shut down for the day. Each Sunday film was shown again Monday night. Tuesdays, best I can remember, The Rogue was closed only to be open the rest of the week.
Dad wasn’t a movie-goer. In fact, not too many grownups back then were. Still the Guthrie family had enough business to keep the picture show in the black.
That was back in the country’s period of innocence. Our little town was so out of the way that delivery of new films was made at night and left at the front door of the movie house. Films to be returned were left at the same spot.
Try to imagine if you will the fate of films left in such a manner today? Probably before the delivery truck turned the first corner, the film would be in somebody’s car and heading for the pawn shop.
But, enough editorializing. Back to the movie.
That Sunday was a treat—while it lasted.
While the film enthralled me, what I remember most that day was the film stopping; the overhead lights suddenly flashing on; Mister Guthrie hurrying down one aisle and climbing up on the stage.
Holding up his hands to quiet the muttering of the audience, he told us the radio had just reported that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Now to a five-year-old boy disappointed that the Munchkins had been turned off, that meant nothing. I didn’t have the slightest idea what a Pearl Harbor was. When I heard my Dad muyter a curse and Mom ask him what it meant, I knew something was wrong. It had to be something seriously wrong to shut down ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
At home, the family gathered, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins- all in front of the radio desperately seeking more news.
As the tragic figures grew, so did the family’s anger and resolve. Now, we had a vague idea there were problems with Japan. For months, the news carried bits and pieces concerning the rocky relationship between the U.S. and Japan.
But up there in the middle of nowhere with only a couple ‘bobbed’ wire fences between us and the North Pole, the news meant little.
But as details trickled in, the words took on new meanings, and the anger and resolve grew in my family, as it did in millions of families across the country.
The surprise attack hit at 7:53 Sunday morning. The first wave damaged eight battleships, sinking five. Three light cruisers, three destroyers, and smaller vessels were lost along wit 188 aircraft. Fortunately, the main targets, the aircraft carriers, were not in harbor.
Casualties? 2,117 servicemen, 68 civilians, and over a thousand crewmen on the USS Arizona were killed plus 1,760 were wounded.
Sunday night, Japan attacked Hong Kong; Guam; Philippine Islands; and Wake Island. Monday morning, they hit Midway Island.
On Monday, December 8, President Roosevelt spoke to Congress, asking it for a declaration of war against Japan. He called the previous day ‘a date which will live in infamy.’
Congress did as he asked, and immediately infuriated Americans clamored to enlist.
I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I knew things were changing about me. And change it did. In its outrage, our country turned its bucolic existence into an all-consuming rage at its attackers.
A quote attributed incorrectly to Admiral Yamamoto, mastermind of the attack, states ‘I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping tiger.’
That’s a movie quote, not his, but it proved apropos.
The Greatest Generation, outraged at such treachery, responded with fervor never before nor since witnessed in the history of the world. All the men in my family volunteered. I had cousins in the Air Corp, uncles in the Navy and Army, and my father in the Navy. Fortunately they all returned.
A few years later in Korea, my cousin, Dooley, was lost, Missing in Action. As of November 30, 2011, he is still missing. The one hope we have though is his DNA is on record. Maybe one day, he’ll be back.
Of the 16 million plus Americans serving in WWII, over four hundred and five thousand died. You and I are here today courtesy of that generation and their supreme sacrifices. We dishonor their sacrifices if we do not keep America great.