Monday, December 7, 2009

Pearl Harbor Day

My oldest brother, Cecil, joined the US Air Corp in the summer of 1941. He was sent to the Hawaiian Islands shortly after he enlisted. He absolutely loved it. He would write long rambling letters on a regular basis. He told us all the latest news and in one letter he told how he was working in the bakery dept of the Mess hall and learning so many things about cooking and baking.
He was stationed at Pearl Harbor. He always mentioned how perfect the weather was and the beauty of the flowers and ocean. He was a 19-year-old boy that had never been off our Oklahoma farm, other than a few ‘running away episodes’, and a little jaunt to Colorado when our parents were seeking their fortune. He was in heaven as far as he was concerned. He already had his entire future laid out, when he retired from the US Air Corp, he would retire there. He never wanted to leave the place. We thought he was so highly dazzled with it, he may never return and visit with us again.
Meanwhile back on the farm, we were living our lives and getting along the best we could. It was a mild December day, we had returned from church and had already eaten our dinner. Mom and I were cleaning up the dishes when Mom said, "Look outside, I see your boyfriend rode his horse over to see you". Everybody in the family thought I had a crush on James. I looked out and said, "He didn’t come to see me, he came to see Ray." I thought my crush was a deep dark secret. I guess when you’re 13 years old, you can’t keep your mouth shut about such things. In a few minutes we found out he was delivering some news that his family had heard over their radio, and they thought we would be interested. The Japanese had bombed the Hawaiian Islands. In fact most of the bombs had struck Pearl Harbor and most of the ships in the harbor. It was a very dire message. We immediately turned on our radio and my parents kept their ears glued to it the next few days. We heard all the casualty reports and were praying Cecil wouldn’t be among them.
Wednesday night we had a knock on our door about 8 o’clock. It was our neighbors that lived a half mile North of us. They had a telephone and had received a message from the telegraph office in Stillwater. Since we didn’t have a telephone, and the Welch’s were the nearest neighbor’s with a phone, they were called. The Telegraph office relayed the message to them and asked if they could deliver it. They would follow up with it in the mail. Somehow I knew when I opened the door, they were bringing bad news about Cecil.
They told us that the news was from the war department, and Cecil had been reported as missing in action. The telegram would arrive in a few days in the mail.
Needless to say, we were deeply saddened and spent the next few days praying that he would not be among the causalities. We talked about it constantly and felt that he must have been killed, or they would know where he was. The grief was unbearable.
Three days later, on Wednesday evening, my brother Ray was visiting the Welch family because their son and Ray were friends.
Ray was standing at the door ready to leave when their phone rang. The Grandma said, "Ray, don’t leave, this call might be for your family". And it was.
The message was another telegram, this time it was from Cecil, and it said, "I understand I have been reported missing. I am absolutely okay".
Ray took out the door and ran as fast as he could the half mile to our house and came bursting through the door and was so out of breath, he couldn’t say anything. He just stood there bent over and breathing as hard as he could. We were all wondering what in the world is the matter with him. Finally he was able to blurt it all out. We couldn’t hardly understand what he was saying, but understood the part about ‘absolutely okay’.
At that exact same moment our uncle Vincent and Aunt Mary drove into our yard. They came from another city to offer their condolences and found us all sky high with joy. It didn’t take long to explain our good news to them.
I wrote a letter to Cecil shortly after the news, and in the letter I asked him, "What exactly did you do while the bombs were being dropped, did you run?" He wrote back and said, "In answer to your question as to whether I ran or not; I don’t know if you could call it running or not, but I passed some that were running".
He ended up making a career of the US Air Force, and passed away in 2000, he never returned to Hawaii after the war ended.
Happy Birthday to my little sister, Carol, and many more.


Jimh. said...

Grandma, I always enjoy your "Yarns." It is hard for those of us who are younger to understand how things were before the communication age. Having to go 1/2 mile to use a telephone, when most kids have a cellphone these days...well, I know that the kids I teach are full of awe when I tell them such things. The entire thing shows just how much chaos the attack caused. No wonder Americans were fighting mad! Thank you for your memory!

Anonymous said...

It's hard to belive I was born two years after Mom & Dad nearly lost their son to have a sweet little thing like me come into this family. Thank you for my present and birthday wish.

Stephanie Frieze said...

My father, too, was nineteen and his brother 20 in December of 1941. They were stationed at Kaneohe on Dec. 7th. My father waked up to the sound of the Zeroes and ran to find my uncle who had been working an overnight shift at the hangar. Together they mounted a machine gun in a PBY which had no gasoline in it and my father fed ammo to his older brother. My uncle brought down a Zero that day and may have been responsible for the first "kill" for the US in WWII. Back in Missouri my grandmother was visiting her parents and stayed awake all night listening to the radio news reports, not knowing if her two oldest children had survived the attack. It would be several days before they received a telegram from the boys telling that they were alive and well, but in the mean time the Greenfield Vedette published an article saying they'd been killed. That was hard on my great-grandparents. Thank you for remembering all of them today. My dad and his brother are gone now. Usually I'd be calling my dad today.