Day of infamy

By Daniel Dunkle | Dec 07, 2017

Once again I find myself seated in H.G. Wells' Time Machine, pulling the lever back in time and watching the world around me change. The cars go from boxy silver SUVs to rounded 1940s jalopies; the Main Street storefronts turn from art galleries into businesses vital to the everyday needs of this bustling coastal city's populace. The mannequins in the windows change their clothes before my eyes, going through the changes from bell-bottoms all the way back to high-waisted trousers.

And finally I stop, hiding my machine in an alley, and stroll down Main Street looking for a copy of The Courier-Gazette. People look twice at my Disney's Animal Kingdom "Expedition Leader" hat and a couple young fellows, who look like they should be high school, ask me which way to the recruiting office, thinking I have some military rank.

I buy a cup of coffee and a copy of the Tuesday, Dec. 9, 1941, Courier-Gazette at the nearest pharmacy. Like every paper in the country, the front page is dominated by news of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. The front page editorial runs under the headline: "WE ARE AT WAR."

"And so the blow fell Sunday morning, without warning, when a shower of Japanese bombs rained from a clear sky, wreaking heavy damage to the American Naval bases in the Hawaiian Islands and causing an appalling loss of life in and around Honolulu. These tragic events were occurring even while conversations were in progress at Washington between diplomats of the two countries, and while the ink was still drying on the cablegram which President Roosevelt had sent as a last resort to the Emperor of Japan."

For context, History.com explains what happened, saying:

"At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive-bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II."

"...The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, 'Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy...'"

There were several stories on the front page responding to the attack. One read, "OUR BOYS IN HAWAII," and it listed the names of several Knox County men stationed at or near the scene of the attack. Anxious locals were still waiting to find out if their loved ones were safe. I will note, too, that while the article pointed out "boys," there would ultimately be many women serving both abroad and helping with military production at home. The war would ultimately play a role in recognizing the importance of women in the workforce and military.

Cpl. Robert E. Sadler of Suffolk Street was stationed at Wheeler Field in Hawaii with the Army Air Corps (which would later be its own branch of the military, the Air Force). He was a former Rockland police officer.

"One Camden boy is thought to be aboard a troop ship enroute from Hawaii to Manila, which has not arrived. A troop ship has been reported by radio, several times, as having been sunk close to Manila."

There were also stories preparing us for attack here. Under the headline "Air Raid Rules," people were urged in the event of a bombing to:

- Keep cool

- Stay at home, get off the street.

- Put out lights. Stay away from windows.

- Don't scream. Keep quiet and don't run for shelter -- walk.

On and on it went.

I look around at the worried, but determined, faces of the people buzzing about. Already the young people are volunteering to serve their country and many will make the ultimate sacrifice. They know this has been a big moment, but I know more from my vantage point.

Pearl Harbor was one of the most significant events in human history, certainly in the 20th century. We were finally involved fully in World War II. I judge from my perspective that we should have jumped in sooner, certainly after the fall of France to Hitler's forces. We should already have been in England, helping protect it from the Nazi advance.

Other dates jump into my mind easily from this remove. D-Day, June 6, 1944, long, hard war years in the future, when 156,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers will land on the beaches along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy in France. They will face a determined Nazi force dug into their fortified sea wall, but the Allies will prevail and the invasion of Europe will be a success.

Even if we had somehow lost that day on those beaches, we would likely eventually have won the war, since we were the first to harness atomic energy in a destructive bomb. It was with this power that we would force Japan ultimately to surrender. Had we not already subdued Germany through conventional warfare, we would have brought these bombs to the Nazis.

Success in that moment, but the introduction of a fearsome power, one that would shape my own youth growing up in the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s, with the constant fear of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

This world war and the decisions made by its winners would also shape the formation of Israel as we know it today and affect the situation in the Middle East that still impacts us all in 2017.

Here in the Midcoast as in the rest of the U.S., people at home would contribute to the war effort, as well as those dispatched to fight in foreign theaters, and their courage saved the world from fascist tyranny. This prompted journalist Tom Brokaw to famously call them "The Greatest Generation."

Satisfied for now, knowing there are stories enough to fill books on this topic and that those books are available, I head back to my alley Time Machine and watch my city age again to the 21st century.

Editor Daniel Dunkle of The Courier-Gazette lives in Rockland. We want to hear from you, so tell us what you think! Send in your responses, stories, photos and memories via email at: ddunkle@villagesoup.com; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841. Hand-written notes are welcome and appreciated.

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