A Day to Remember

by | Dec 5, 2021

Above: Ships burn on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row the morning of the Japanese attack; the USS Arizona is in the foreground.

Editor’s Note: Dec. 7, 2021, marks the 80th anniversary of the surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, a major U.S. Navy base in Hawaii. The attack killed 2,400, destroyed much of the Pearl Harbor fleet and catapulted the U.S. into a war that had already engulfed Europe and Asia, a war that would become known as World War II. Below, East Greenwich native Don Rice recalls the day, one then-President Roosevelt said would live in infamy.

My earliest datable memory concerns an event that occurred eighty years ago today on December 7, 1941. I can remember some other things that I believe happened before then, such as when my Uncle How bent over and plucked a wriggling green snake out of the grass in front of our house. And I have a particularly clear mental image of sitting on the running board of a black car near a stream. But I can’t date those moments.

December 7, 1941, however, is fixed sharply in my mind. It was a typical December day—cold and cloudy. We had no central heating in our upstairs apartment on Castle Street and relied on the black stove in the kitchen for warmth and hot water. That Sunday afternoon we were all in the parlor listening to 78s on the phonograph my father had made. (He could do things like that.) I was on the floor with a coloring book and crayons, close – but not too close – to the portable kerosene space heater in the middle of the room. My brother, Clifford, who was barely eight months old, was in his playpen.

If you didn’t have your radio on, and if no one called you (which they couldn’t because we didn’t have a phone) there was no way to know what was going on in the outside world, not that it usually mattered. It was around 2:30 in the afternoon when Charlie Daylor, who lived downstairs, yelled up to my parents. I can hear him still. 

“Walt! Edna! The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor!”

My father rushed to turn on the radio. An announcer was excitedly repeating that same news. I didn’t understand the details, but they must have been horrific because my parents were terribly agitated. My older sisters, Marilyn, age eight, and Barbara, age ten, were both crying, totally caught up in the terror of the moment. I was three-and-a-half and I’d never seen adults so out of control. It was truly scary.

During my short life there had been war news on the radio every day. Whenever I visited my grandparents next door, my grandfather – who was born in Nottingham, England and came to this country as a young man in 1908 – always sat transfixed beside the radio. From the news I had somehow picked up that bombs meant explosions. What I couldn’t understand – and what made this moment so indelibly etched in my memory – was the reason for the hysteria, and it made no sense at all. No one, of course, bothered to explain to the bewildered little boy on the floor what all this meant, so I tried to sort it out for myself. 

There was an old lady who lived across the street named Pearl Hay, and in my mind the reason everyone was acting hysterically was because another old lady named Pearl Harbor had exploded. By the next day I had a slightly better understanding of what had actually happened. 

Forty-nine million men between the ages of 18 and 37 were registered for the draft. Ten million of those were inducted. In all 12,209,238 Americans served in the armed forces, around 350,000 of whom were women. My father, a 33-year-old veteran of the Rhode Island National Guard, was one of those left behind. Charlie Daylor joined the Navy and when the shooting stopped returned home safe and sound.

Donald Tunnicliff Rice is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio. His latest book is Who Made George Washington’s Uniform?

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3 Comments

  1. Bruce

    I didn’t know Cliff (Strunge) was so old.

    Reply
    • Don Rice

      The truth is, Bruce, he isn’t. Somehow I got it in my mind that he was born in 1941 instead of 1942. I couldn’t actually picture him in my mind in the parlor that day, but because I was–however mistakenly–certain of his birth date, I shrugged and included him. Thanks for keeping me honest.

      Reply
  2. Ray Riccio

    I would not be born for another 10 years after Roosevelt described Pearl Harbor as “a date which will live infamy.” Every December 7th and June 6th I would call my cousin David. December 7th in remembrance, June 6th, D Day as it was his birthday.

    Induction age as stated was 18, some like all wars enlisted before that age.
    Audie Murphy was rejected by different branches of the military before he enlisted in the US Army lying about his age.

    The common cry was at the time old enough to fight, old enough to vote.
    The States would not ratify the constitution for this purpose for another 30 years after 1941 although far less than a handful of states did allow voting at age 18 at this time.

    Fast forward 20 odd years after the end of WWII the song at the time was Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” An anthem for the 60’s generation, “you’re old enough to kill but not for voting”.

    The 26th Amendment would not be passed by Congress until March 1971 and ratified by the states in July 1971.

    While in High School from 1967 on, there was much discussion on amending the Constitution for this purpose. I remember George King telling me if the Constitution is ratified you must read and stay informed. The book I was reading at the time was “A Date Which will Live in Infamy.”

    After High School I was sent overseas to a place many heard of but could not locate on a map. So actually thinking they knew there was an International Date Line to cross surely was not even conceivable.
    I and many others were considered as part of the establishment and disliked just as much. What’s the question which was asked in the movie “Forest Gump” “who’s the baby killer?”

    But everyone that served in military during that period regardless of the conformity expressed by the herds of people protesting in the streets understood patriotism as expressed by those who previously served. As I speak to those I know and currently see, if they had to do it again they would. We understood because of us protesters had the right in accordance to the First Amendment the right to peacefully assemble including to protest. I would have to explain to WWII veterans when they witnessed a flag being torched we gave them that freedom.

    Vietnam was purported to block the spread of Communism. WWII was to stop the advancement of tyranny which started out as Populism which is defined as any of various, often antiestablishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and which appeal to the common people.

    History would teach us it is the youth that would adhere to the tenants of Populism, “Lenin”, The Hitler Youth the tyranny of Mussolini. Hitler although fascist was a Nazi and eventually Mussolini a fascist would become one, eliminating “Juden” as Hitler deemed. The difference between fascism and Nazism is racism.

    I thought I never see the USA embrace the political philosophy of Populism to any degree. Even during the turbulent 60’s during a very unpopular war the shadow of tyranny during WWII and the Cold War would not allow such a philosophy to exist in this country.

    But since the election of Reagan if not before various undertaking of those seeking power would change my thinking on the possibility of a lust for predominance. Actually I would start to rethink the direction of this country when Nixon went to China. All that would be needed would be the right stooge supported by unforeseen elements to exploit their position and support from those who lack the knowledge of history. The inability to see through the facade, the duplicity, as Kurt Anderson directs in his book “Evil Genius.” If Andersen is too progressive for those read Volume 2 of 3 of Manchester/Reid’s “The Last Lion.” It may open one’s mind. If Churchill was not removed in a “snap election” while he, Truman and Stalin were in Potsdam I do wonder how the Cold War would have been different.

    But it was not the minority of the youth that would bring forth this change but a combination of all ages, especially the baby boomers. A generation I once thought reliable to ensure the survival of democracy because of what the “Greatest Generation” experienced and passed on has seemed to have been forgotten. They have become “back benches” to what their parents had stood against. You can deny this all you want but you must answer why?

    Who would allow a person the Office of President that called a man awarded a Silver Star, 2 Legion of Merits, Distinguished Flying Cross, 3 Bronze Stars, 2 Purple Hearts, Navy & Marine Accommodation Medals and a POW Medal a loser and do it with such blatant ignorance and disregard? An affront to all those that wore the uniform.

    Commitment to the Constitution doesn’t mean you insult those who put their lives on the line to defend the Republic. It doesn’t mean you support such arrogance. As Hamilton stated “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” Inscribed in his statement is an attack on populism, tyranny which I fear will destroy this country. Is it inevitable? Well the horse is already out of the barn.

    Has the time also passed for my generation and others to learn the history of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. When I think of what this country witnessed on 1/6/2021 in relation to the immortal legend of Cincinnatus and supported it or pledged allegiance to a flag carried during the insurrection of 1/6/2021 two things come to mind. I will address the later occurrence first allegiance to that flag. The only German word comes to mind, Blutfahne. The other is Trumbull’s painting of Washington resigning his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the continental army in 1783.

    Men far greater than I make history. Men far less than I exclude it. I can only read of it and hopefully put it in proper context and remember the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln:

    “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    Reply

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