My December Seventh
December 7, 1941, was declared a “Day of Infamy,” and for my chums and me, it was a day of emotional contrasts. At the time, we were all living near Boston on the Chelsea naval hospital base. We were junior and senior high school students living with our families in the chief’s quarters at the base of the hilly compound. Our Sunday routine was to attend chapel services in the Red Cross hut, have lunch and then head into town for ice cream cones.
Our usual destination was a small ice cream shop with sawdust on the floor. The owner was a new immigrant from Eastern Europe. This Sunday when we entered, we found him standing in the middle of the shop shaking and weeping. As we gathered around him, he told us about Pearl Harbor. He exclaimed, “I come to America for freedom and now we are no longer safe here!” We gave him a hug, got a chair for him, and told him we all had brothers in the fleet there. We assured him that they would fight for America if necessary, and that our country would remain strong as ever.
We then ran home but were stopped at the entrance to the base. Earlier, when we left, the Marines had on their Sunday dress blues. Now they were in “battle dress,” holding their rifles with bayonets drawn, and we could not enter the gates. Our one high school senior took charge. She asked for a telephone, was allowed to enter the sentry booth, and called the commanding officer’s residence. His wife answered and asked to speak to one of the Marines, who released us with instructions to stay together and climb the stone steps up the hill to the Admiral’s residence. We were reminded that the guards would be watching us.
The admiral’s wife greeted us with hugs and led us to her dining room. She had places set for us with orange juice and cookies. She then joined us and told us what she knew about had happened in Hawaii. She assured us that her husband had everything under control on the hospital base and added that our parents would be notified promptly when news about our brothers was available.
I will never forget the firm yet caring way she told us to go directly home. She asked us to tell our parents that her husband was in the process of determining the condition of their sons and their ships. She explained that our parents would no doubt have concerns about our brothers and she told us to stay strong and advised us how to comfort our parents.
Her compassion in the situation and caring for us has remained a lifetime objective for me. How my brother survived the bombing and capsizing of USS Utah is a story for another time.