Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I Remember Pearl Harbor

I remember the early Sunday morning on December 7, 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt came on the radio to announce that the Japanese had attacked a base in Hawaii called Pearl harbor! There are really no words to describe the feelings of surviving veterans, spouses and widows of World War II.

In the photo of the Marine Corps Platoon on the right, my husband Charles Columbus Shaw is on the first row, second from the end going left.)

They tell me that over a thousand WWII veterans are dying daily now. Those living are in their late eighties or nineties but to me they are still young men like my grandson, Josh, who is a a Captain in the Army , serving in Fort Benning now after a year in Germany and over a year in Iraq.

My generation of WWII soldiers are still, to me, those idealistic, brave, vital, young soldiers who willingly went off to war believing that they were helping to assure the safety and freedom of their families. They were willing to serve in spite of great personal sacrifice. They were certainly a part of one of the greatest generations in our country’s history.

Three of my school friends were killed in WWII, James Homer Cook, An Army Airplane Pilot, killed in the South Pacific March 17, 1944; Quentin "Red " Cole, killed in Italy , March 9, 1944; Carroll Adams, killed in France , July 27, 1944 and the brother of a school classmate , a few years older than I, J.W. Rye was killed in Africa January 21, 1943. God bless their memory.

Two of my brothers were soldiers in World War Two. Tom, served in the infantry in Europe and survived the D. Day battle that took the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. My brother, Jack, was in the Army Air Force and served in the South Pacific. These who survived the rigors of war to come back home we also remember as we celebrate and honor our brave soldiers who gave " the last full measure of their devotion."

When President Roosevelt came on the radio early Sunday morning December 7, 1941 and announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, life in the towns and cities of America was forever changed. I vividly remember the terror and anxiety I felt as I listened to President Franklin Roosevelt tell of the Japanese attack. We’d never before been in war in my 18 year lifetime.

No one knew what might be next, so days were filled with fear and uncertainty. We were afraid that our mainland would be bombed next.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, the entire population rallied around the president and our national leadership. Patriotism was strong. Citizens supported whatever the president felt should be done. The immediate response of our nation to the bombing of Pearl Harbor was somewhat like the national response to the events of September 11, 2001, when everyone pulled together and supported one another. But this kind of patriotism lasted though out the long World War II.

We were all uncertain what would happen next and wondered how our individual lives were going to be impacted. Winning the war seemed to be the only focus of the entire population.
Soon the military draft was begun. Able-bodied young men were eager to sign up. It was the right and patriotic thing to do. They felt a desire, a need, and an obligation to protect their families and their country from threat and to insure our way of life. Charles was in line early – the morning they opened the draft. Because of this he got a low draft number. However, before his number came up and he could be drafted, he, like many others, opted to volunteer instead so that he could choose his branch of service. Women were never drafted, but many volunteered to serve in the WACS and WAVES.

In 1943 Charles and three other young men from our hometown, Grover Foster, Roy Connell and Charlie Miller, were sent to Cherry Point, NC. Later they were stationed in San Diego. Charlie Miller was wounded in the battle of Iwo Jima and was never well again. These four young fathers joined countless others giving years of their lives for the good of their country.
When we learned that Charles was to be shipped to the South Pacific without a furlough, I went out to be with him in San Diego. On the way there (a four day train ride), I came down with scarlet fever. The next day after I arrived at the Marine base, I was quarantined for 21 days. The Marines gave Charles a furlough after all so he could come home with me before he was sent overseas.
His first assignment was in the South Pacific. He served in the Makin, Caroline and Solomon Islands.

He was a Marine, and as it is with the Marines, he remained a Marine the rest of his life. He was enormously proud of his service to the country and at the same time humble about his contributions. As men do, he rarely if ever talked about it in any detail.

Back at home, food and gasoline were in short supply because the nation’s resources were going toward the war effort. The government issued ration books to citizens who then had to use the coupons to get supplies such as sugar and gasoline.

Some textile plants switched over to making strong canvas for tents instead of fabrics for civilian clothing, and some of the mills made cord which was used to reinforce tires for military vehicles. Almost all the nations factories switched from making goods for regular civilian use to making needed military supplies.

The focus of daily life was to keep abreast of what was happening “overseas.” I remember reading the newspapers from cover to cover every day to find out what was happening and discussing the events with other adults with whom I came into contact in the course of the day. All ears were tuned to the radio anytime a report or a speech came on. There were great, inspiring, and encouraging speeches by Roosevelt and Churchill.

Every night I sat down and wrote a letter to my Marine. Every morning I dressed my two little girls and walked to the Post Office to mail that letter and see if we had a letter from “Daddy.” We wrote as often as he could. He was a great letter writer.

Citizens spent whatever “free time” they had doing whatever they could to help with the war effort. Some worked for the Red Cross. Patriotic and Christian groups frequently had rallies and services to support the troops and to encourage each other.

Children’s lives were very different with few male influences in their lives, and the constant talk of war made many of them fearful. A whole generation of children lived without the benefit of their fathers. And those fathers gave up precious early years of their children’s lives in order to preserve freedom for our country.

Finally the war was over. There were community and church celebrations throughout the country. I clearly remember the celebration service our community held. The entire community gathered at the Baptist church to thank the Lord for the end of the war. It was quite a celebration!

Charles often said in the years after the war that “Buddies” in the service are not just buddies – they are brothers. They all seemed to feel a strong sense of brotherhood and connection with each other, realizing that their very lives were in each others hands.

This is what Pearl Harbor Day , Memorial Day , Veterans Day , Independence Day and every day means to me. It means recognition of the sacrifices made – and still being made by soldiers, their families, their children, and the nation as a whole.

It means appreciation for what thousands of our fellow citizens have done for me – for all of us – for their country – not just in WWII but in other wars our country. And the conflicts continue!

Our mainland was not attacked after Pearl Harbor on 12-3-1941 during World War II until it was viciously attacked on 9-11-01 by radical Islamic terrorist with nearly three thousand lives taken.

So today in 2012 we are blessed to have men and women are willing to fight in a new kind of war with hidden enemies inside and outside the United States. So we need to also remember today's living soldiers, airmen and sailors who continue to sacrifice to protect our freedoms even in some places where they are not respected.

God grant us strength, wisdom and righteousness that our freedom may be preserved and that this great country "shall not perish from the world."


Andy McCullough said...

Aunt Ruth, As always I really enjoyed your post. Charles and his 'buddies' truly were the Greatest Generation and our nation and world are better because of their sacrifice and the sacrifice made by the families who waited at home for their return.

Joan said...

This is an inspiring post. It is so easy for us, even those of us who are patriotic and usually appreciative, to take our freedoms for granted.

Carol said...

I love this post - and when I have time, I will write a post about it. It is also good to read more family history.

beth said...

This is the best Memorial Day post I've read. It's wonderful!

Lyn said...

It's hard for me to believe that Granddaddy's been gone 20 years. I love him, remember small things about him well, and miss him immensely. I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for writing about family history. I love you.

Anonymous said...

All the years I've heard the story of your going to see Daddy, and getting scarlet fever, I have thought, "How sad!" I am glad that the Marines let Daddy escort you home to Georgia.

I wish I knew more about his service record.

Love you! Debi

Carol said...

Reading this post today - May 25, 2008 - has made my day. Thanks for posting this again.

janice said...

This was such a terrific post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about that important part of our nation's history from the perspective of someone who lived it. I especially enjoyed the line about dressing your two little girls and walking to the post office every morning to mail your letter to your marine. I also was moved to read that children of that era (me!!) were raised without their dads during those war years -- I had never thought of that! Thank you for a wonderful insight into life during that time. Write more!!! Write more!!!

JSC said...

I just re-read this for the second time and appreciate so much the opportunity to read this first-hand account of such an important era in our history. Future generations need to hear about the personal sacrifices of those who lived through those days and understand that the freedoms we enjoy today are because of your generation's sacrifices. This is a very poignant and exceptionally meaningful memory and I am so thankful that you shared it with us.

janice said...

I just re-read this post and enjoyed it even more this second time. This is such a poignant and important recollection of a very significant part of our nation's history -- told from a very personal perspective. I am so thankful that you are recording these messages so that future generations will know first-hand what these historic event meant to those who lived through them and for us who can enjoy freedom because of the sacrifices of your generation!!!

rsm said...

Just reread. Means even more to me now that I am in theater, knowing that my grandparents and great grandparents sacrificed far more than I ever will.

Anonymous said...

Ruth, I can identify with so much of your story. I was in college, sitting on my bed, polishing my nails when the notice about Pearl Harbor came over the radio. I had never heard of Pearl Harbor and knew little of what was going on in the world. I had no idea that it would completely change my life.

Thanks for the memories!

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Sandra Baird Caruso said...

I read this post twice, and the second time was even better!!! As always, Aunt Ruth, your extraordinary gift with words paints a vivid picture for your readers, drawing them in to live the moment. Thank you for sharing your memories !

jo said...

Mrs. Shaw,
I have been lurking and reading your blog for over 5 years.
I enjoy your writing so very much, and you are an inspiration. Sometimes, I feel like I know you.

Thank you so much for sharing your life----I always feel like I'm a better person when I leave here.