BECAUSE of the September 11 terrorist attacks, December 7, 2001, the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, became especially significant. Many children never bothered to ask their parents and grandparents, "Where were you on December 7, 1941?" -- the date that will "live in infamy."
Jim, 69: "I was 9 years old in rural Oklahoma. My mother and I had driven down to my uncle's farm. We were driving back to Lamar. To get there, you go to a junction, which we called Horntown, because there were no stop signs or traffic signals – everybody had to honk their horns where the roads crossed. At that location was a filling station and store. It was the only place that had a freezer in those parts, so my mother would stop on the way home and let me go in and get an ice cream cone. I went inside the store, and people were huddled around a radio, listening to these news bulletins, that the United States had been bombed by Japan at a place called Pearl Harbor.
"Of course, nobody knew where that was. A kid sees adults being very serious about something, and you know it's really major. Finally, the lady at the store gave me an ice cream cone, and I went back outside where my mother was in the car and told her she'd better come inside. The next morning, my father, then in his mid-40s, and several other men from the little town of Lamar, population 272, got into a car and drove to the county seat looking for a way to enlist. My father had been in France in the First World War, and was greatly disillusioned by the trench warfare and the carnage and slaughter, and was a pretty staunch isolationist. But on the morning of Dec. 8, he wanted to go enlist – that's what everybody in town felt – and really, most of them didn't even know what Japan was, let alone Pearl Harbor. But that was their response."
George, 81: "I was 21, I had just married the most beautiful girl in the world. We were living with my folks in Hollywood, Calif. We had gone down to State Beach, put our blanket down, and I had one of those old heavy portable radios. I turned the radio on, it was about 9:00 a.m., and we heard that Pearl Harbor was under attack. Everybody came over to our blanket. We looked out to the horizon, and we thought, 'Oh, they'll be here next.' Three months later, I got my 1-A. We were just two kids out of the Depression, no sooner got married, then World War II. What we went through! We knew we had to do it. But you have young kids today, if the top don't work right on the new Mustang, it's the end of the world."
Lee, 66: "I was 6 and a half years old, and my parents had picked me up from a one-room country school in Iowa, and we heard it on the car radio. Pearl Harbor had been hit. I think I knew where Hawaii was. My brother, 14 years older, had already joined the Army Air Corps because he was tired of milking cows, and my first thought was, 'Will Charlie be bombed?' My folks said, 'We don't know.' And the next thought was, 'Will we be bombed?' The answer was, 'We don't know.' Charlie survived, so did my brother-in-law ... we didn't lose anyone in that war."
Rita, 78: "I was 18, in South Bend, Ind. My future husband was home from college. His best friend was there. I don't know why the radio was on, as generally it wasn't. But it happened to be on in the background, and the other boy said, 'Shhh.' We listened, and he got up and said, 'That's it.' The next thing we heard, he was in the Navy. My husband's sister joined the WAVES. The next day was the thing that really educated me. I worked at a Studebaker place, and we had about 35 employees. We all gathered out by the radio in the shop to hear the 'infamy' speech. At the end, out of 35 employees, first Bob said, 'I'm leaving.' Before five minutes were up, 10 boys had left to go to the service – that fast. I've never gotten over it. I couldn't believe that people would react like that, but they did. The feeling was so different than it is now. I think it's much better now than I've ever seen it since then. The stockings we couldn't get – we painted our legs for years – and none of this made us angry, because we felt it was important. When I hear the kids crabbing now, I just feel very badly that we don't have the same spirit, but at least we're getting close."
Every day we lose more of this patriotic, sturdy, hard-working, self-effacing World War II generation. The events of September 11 galvanized the nation as never before in recent history. Nothing, before or since, united this nation like Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.