Pearl Harbor day rememberedExactly 69 years and one day ago, at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the naval forces of Japanese Emperor Hirohito launched a sneak attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Like the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was one of those historic tragedies that remains burned in the memories of a generation of Americans.
By: By Vicki Gerdes, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Exactly 69 years and one day ago, at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the naval forces of Japanese Emperor Hirohito launched a sneak attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Like the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was one of those historic tragedies that remains burned in the memories of a generation of Americans.
So it was only fitting that a special program commemorating the event was held Tuesday night at Detroit Lakes’ Historic Holmes Theatre.
“Remembering Pearl Harbor” was hosted by the Detroit Lakes Public Library, and included a presentation by Minnesota State University Moorhead history professor Steve Hoffbeck.
But the evening began on a more personal note, as a panel of local residents recalled their memories of the events of what then-U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would declare was “a date that will live in infamy.”
George Oja, Muriel Mollberg and Jim Haney took turns talking about their memories of that Sunday in December, 69 years ago.
Oja, who grew up in Ely, Minn., recalled learning that he had lost two of his high school classmates in the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Walking home from church that Sunday, he said, “it seemed something was amiss … the whole town seemed to know we had been bombed.”
Mollberg, who was just 11 years old at the time, recalled coming home from church to be greeted by her agitated uncle, who was so upset at the news of the Pearl Harbor invasion “he forgot to get dressed … he was in his winter underwear.”
“By January, he was in the army,” she added.
Mollberg also noted that, as a child at the time, she didn’t really grasp the significance of America going to war.
“It was kind of exciting,” she admitted.
Haney recalled sitting in his living room with his brother, reading the newspaper and listening to the radio, when the news broadcast came on, announcing that America was at war.
Though it seemed like a surprise attack at the time, Haney said, “the Japanese had warned us.”
In 1935, they invaded Manchuria; in 1936, China; and as early as 1937, they had attacked a U.S. ship in the Pacific.
“We knew they meant business,” he recalled.
And on that same day in December 1941, the Japanese also launched attacks on the island of Guam and on Luzon, in the Philippines.
A year and a half later, Haney had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“We retook the island of Guam,” he said of his years in the service.
Back on the home front, Mollberg recalled that many staples previously taken for granted were being rationed by the U.S. government — sugar, meat, gasoline, even shoes.
Living in a small farming community near the Canadian border, Mollberg recalled that her family usually went to Winnipeg for supplies. She said that one time, when she got a new pair of shoes, she wore them back across the border, because she was afraid of being arrested for violating the rationing regulations that were in place at the time.
In his presentation following the panel discussion, Professor Hoffbeck touched on some of the same themes.
Though he wasn’t born until 1953, Hoffbeck recalled being told stories of the war by his father Raymond, who served in the U.S. Navy during the battle for Okinawa, in 1945.
He said that his father was the storekeeper for the troop ship on which he served — a job which the young Hoffbeck thought must have been “the coolest in the Navy.”
In reality, however, the storekeeper’s job was among the most dangerous, because of the kamikaze planes’ attack on the ship.
“Everyone on the ship was prepared to meet their maker,” Hoffbeck said.
Fortunately, none of the kamikazes that attacked his father’s ship hit their mark — or he wouldn’t be there speaking on Tuesday, Hoffbeck said.
There were over 16 million Americans who enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, Hoffbeck said. Among them were over 300,000 Minnesotans. Of those 300,000, a total of 6,000 died in combat; another 400 in prison camps; and another 500 were reported as missing in action.
In North Dakota, there were about 60,000 people who left to enlist in the military, and another 40,000 who went to work in the defense plants that were springing up on the West Coast.
That total of 100,000 North Dakotans who left during the war was particularly startling, Hoffbeck noted later, because the entire population of the state was about 600,000 at the time.
Vicki Gerdes is a reporter at the Detroit Lakes (Minn.)
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