Dec. 7, 1941 — a day of infamy lives in memories of Pearl Harbor Day

Ann Cousineau

Dec. 7, 1941 — a day of infamy lives in memories of Pearl Harbor DayRidgecrest seniors are among a shrinking number of Americans alive today who can remember the day Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed. Like other historic events in United States history, people alive on Sunday, Dec.7, 1941, can readily recall where they were and what they were doing when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

John and Dee Di Pol were both 14 years old when they heard Pearl Harbor was bombed.

“It was a Sunday morning and I was painting the kitchen with my father,” John said in an interview on Monday. “My father shouted, ‘Impossible!’ I was not afraid at the time, but I sure still remember my father saying that.”

“Everyone was nervous and shaky later. I remember the night everyone thought there was an air raid.

“It was in early February…We were living in the Los Angeles area and one night we all woke up to the sound of bullets flying around midnight and again at 2 a.m. There were sirens sounding everywhere and searchlights in the sky…but there were no airplanes in the sky.”

Dee also had clear memories of those days. “I remember the day that war was declared [Dec. 8, 1941],” said Dee. “I had had an attack of appendicitis and was in bed when I heard that news. I remember my parents talking about it. I was 14 and in high school.

“I remember that it wasn’t long after that when [the family of] a Japanese girl in our class…was relocated. We [students] were in shock at that, not prejudiced. It hadn’t been that long since the war was declared, but I remember on a Monday morning, we went to school and she wasn’t there. I remember everyone discussing the war and relocations.”

Robert “Bud” Sewell was 19 years old on Dec. 7, 1941.

“It was Sunday and I was home living with my parents in Taft. I was probably reading the morning paper when I heard the news on radio,” he said.

“We had been watching carefully what had been happening in Europe, and I was involved in debates with relevant topics including support to Britain…. Yes, we had acquired some rather strong feelings. I had been a Scout and a DeMolay Club member where loyalty was stressed.”

Patriotism also ran deep in his home, as his father, Edward G. Sewell, was a World War I vet.

“My dad had strong feelings about Pearl Harbor. He had served in the Navy from 1901-11. Later, he received a commission in the Army and fought four major offensives in Germany during WWI. He was here in Ridgecrest [and was] the district VFW commander when the first VFW chapter was started here. I admired my dad tremendously,” said Bud.

“We did fear that the Japanese would invade California then. That was the reason why I joined the California State Guard. That was the first thing I did after hearing about Pearl Harbor on Sunday, I signed up the next Tuesday.

“It was a volunteer service and they actually suggested we could wear uniforms. They provided us with an Enfield rifle that was loaded with oil used for storing guns, that we had to clean out of it. We had training drills once a week and we learned the new 1939 drill regulations that were different from what we’d learned in school before that.”

Bud was in his sophomore year in junior college when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred.

“Taft was a strange place then,” he said. “People there and all over the San Joaquin Valley sold their farms for $50-100 each. They sold out for gas money to go back to Tennessee and Oklahoma.” Bud said he was California born, and he wasn’t leaving.

“Not long after war was declared, there were blackout drills in Taft. Some people didn’t respond, and some shot out street lights…Taft [was a] very strange town…rough and ready.”

Howard and Barbara Auld also shared their memories of Pearl Harbor day and the weeks that immediately followed.

“I was a senior at El Monte High School on Dec. 7, 1941. We were glued to the radio in those days,” Barbara said. “Japanese officials had been in meetings in Washington, D.C., negotiating with our government. We couldn’t believe it when we heard about the bombing in Pearl Harbor.

“We had a Japanese family living across the street from where I lived. They rode on same bus at the end of our street. I had moved there when I was 13; we were friends for about five years. It was very hard for us when we saw our friends sent to internment camps when we were all in high school. We heard their music in the evenings…They were commercial gardeners and had to give up their land. Then they were gone.”

As the war moved forward, Barbara said, “We were shocked by what had happened to our country. A young boy I had known and cared about in second grade, went down on the USS Arizona that day.”

Howard remembered hearing the news on the radio, too. “The Japanese ambassadors were carrying a message to the president in D.C. They were meeting together; there was no talk of war at that point,” he said.

“When the news came across my radio, I was a junior in high school. I didn’t have a strong sense of exactly what was going on [but] I do remember my parents talking about it and they were very upset,”

The Aulds remembered that Japanese officials were talking peace in Washington at the same time that the plans to attack Pearl Harbor were being activated. “It was a shock. It was dastardly,” Barbara said.

An extensive document, “Diplomatic Background of the Pearl Harbor Attack,” touching on the meetings mentioned by Howard and Barbara, can be found at www.ibiblio.org/pha/pha/congress/part_1.html#13.

Kathy Armstrong was was 15 years old, just out of eighth grade and headed for high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She was born and raised in a community of farmers in Oklahoma, where her dad worked the farm owned by her grandfather.

Sometime before December 1941, Kathy’s father had decided he wanted to be a part of the WPA (the Works Progress Administration, renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939) which was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects.

That’s how Kathy and her family found themselves moving to Texas on the very day the attack happened.

“Dad had found suitable housing for us in Texas, and we were moving from Oklahoma. On Dec. 7, 1941, we were in our car hauling all our belongings. We heard about Pearl Harbor on the car radio,” Kathy said.

“The first thing we worried about was the neighbors that lived across the street from us in Oklahoma. Their son was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor and we worried about if he was OK.

“Dad was beside himself about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He paid more attention to finding out about our neighbors than anything those days,” she said. “He was patriotic like most ‘Okies’ were back then. Even though they were all farmers, his brothers had served in World War I.”

Later, after graduating from high school, Kathy contributed to the war effort by serving as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross.

Story First Published: 2012-12-05