“Jimmy, git in the car. We’re already late. We shoudn’t have taken so long for Sunday dinner. Who’s that in the street walkin’ toward us? It looks like Bill Jackson. I’d better git out.”
“They’ve bombedPearl Harbor!”
“Who’s bombedPearl Harbor?”
“The Japs. Came in on the news ‘bout five minutes ago, ‘round one o’clock. We were jest sittin’ down to dinner. I had the radio on in the next room. Was gonna listen to the symphony orchestra, and they had hardly started the broadcast when this announcer broke in and said the Japs had attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s started, James. We’re at war.”
“That’s what I ast myself. Joan said it was in theHawaiian Islands. I looked it up, and she was right. It’s the big naval base.”
“What’s the damage? How many killed?”
“Can’t say for sure. I’m goin’ back home to listen to the radio. I spotted you on my walk after dinner, and thought I’d let you know in case you hadn’t heard.”
“No, no, Bill I hadn’t. Thanks for tellin’ me. Son, did you hear that? We’re at war. The Japs have bombed a naval base in theHawaiian IslandscalledPearl Harbor. We’d better hurry to pick up Dad. We’ll keep the car radio on for more news. God, I can hardly believe it.”
“Dad, sorry I’m late. You git in the front seat. Guess you heard the news.”
“Yep, I was havin’ my dinner. Effie had jest put the food on the table, and I heard it from the kitchen where she had on a gospel program. They stopped singin’ and the preacher told ’em ‘bout it right on the radio. I cut mine on. Seems nobody knows how many been killed or wounded. And it caught ’em all by surprise ‘bout seven o’clock in the mornin’ their time, and on top of that, a Sunday. But what would you expect from the Japs? Never trusted any of ’em. Who knows how long it’ll last or how it’ll turn out. Wel-l-l, I saw the last one, and I guess I’ll live to see the end of this one too. I still think we oughtta’ take a look at these old home places. Let’s jest keep the radio on.”
Dennis had not gone to church. He was in his office trying to come up with some new points for his editorial. He was not satisfied with having to borrow from Lippmann, but he was stymied. He kept thinking about the upcoming events: the Town Council meeting, the Chamber of Commerce Christmas dinner at the hotel, and the first home high school basketball game. The telephone rang. Mazie’s voice came over the line.
“Dennis, it’s your father. I suspect he has some news for you.”
“Seems that Mazie always takes the Sunday afternoon shift, and always has something to say to the person being called. What did she mean? How would she know what my father is goin’ to tell me?”
“Yes, yes, Dad, I’m here in the office. Where else would I be at this hour on a Sunday? No, I don’t have the radio on. What? They’ve attackedPearl Harbor? Of course I know where it is. But when? Any news on casualties? How many ships hit? Can’t tell yet. I’ll go right down stairs and git the radio and check the ticker tape. I heard it runnin’ a few minutes ago, but that thing’s always spewin’ out. Thanks for callin’. Yeah, I’ll be there for supper, probably by four o’clock, no, make that five with all this news breakin’. We’ll have a drink, and a lot to talk about”
“Looks like I’d better forget this editorial and start another one. Maybe hold off ‘til Wednesday. God, Pearl Harbor! Anybody payin’ attention thought it’d be Thailand or the Dutch East Indies, not a direct attack on the U.S. What are those bastards thinkin’? Do they really believe they can knock us out of the Pacific? And what will Hitler and Mussolini do? Will we be at war with them too? Better git the radio, check the ticker tape, and think about this week’s edition. It sure in hell will be different now.”
Jim Clark and his parents were in their living room, only half listening to the radio as they rummaged through the Sunday paper when they heard the bulletin. Jim looked at his father and his mother. She sat there in a state of shock. Being from a Quaker background, she had a difficult time dealing with war in any form. Jim remembered her telling him about how she had opposed theUnited Statesgoing to war in 1917 and the abuses she suffered inMadison. But this unprovoked sneak attack should be easier for her to deal with. Jim glanced at his father. His health was failing; that heart attack had made him a different person.
“What will happen to Dad if things get bad here in Madison like rationing, black-outs, bombings or shellings along the East Coast? Dad will probably worry himself to death, literally. What will happen to the business if I get drafted? If I don’t get a deferment, the business’ll go under ’cause he surely can’t handle it. But can I stay here, in Madison when I should be in the army, when everybody else will probably be gone?”
Evelyn was stunned when she heard the news after dinner. She and Howard had spent most of his leave making plans for the announcement party and the June wedding. She felt those conversations had occurred years ago or maybe not at all. Howard was not at Pearl Harbor; he was safe on a train going back to his base. Her mind was racing.
“I’ll be back here in three weeks. So will Howard. But will he, now we’re at war? Will Howard get any leave? And what about my exams? They seem so unimportant right now, but I’d better be ready for ’em. At war! How did it all happen? I’ve been readin’ the papers, but I’d never have guessed it would come so soon. Better finish packin’ and git started. Wish Howard were here to take me back.”
Sarah arrived at Anna Lou’s house for their Sunday afternoon homework session. After reading history lessons or solving math problems, they usually spent most of their time talking about friends and boys, but not this afternoon.
“What do you think all this will mean, Anna Lou? Do you think we‘ll git bombed? The Japs will invade us?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. I did hear Mama and Daddy taking ‘bout it after dinner. They’re worried ‘bout their money. Dad told her Mama that holding on to his farms and Mama’s plantation in Mississippi was ‘bout the safest thing they could do. He talked about buying stock in General Motors. You know, that company that makes all those cars. But, I tell ya Sarah, I’m afraid of those Japs.”
Wel-l-l, my Daddy, at first, was really, really mad. I’d never heard him use those cuss words. Then Mama told him to hold his tongue. He calmed down, jest sat there in his chair before goin’ over to his desk. He sat for a long time, using his addin’ machine and scribblin’ on a piece of paper. When he finally told Mama and me that the plant could increase production by at least 25% in the next six months, we looked at each other, puzzled. I thought he’d been afraid of what was gonna’ happen to Madison and us. But enough of this, what do ya’ think is gonna’ happen in school this week?”
Joe Gray worked all afternoon on his bus which had been leaking oil. Lucky break, the oil pan had a pinhead hole so he only had to patch it. He wiped the oil off his hands with kerosene before stepping up on the front porch. He was about to push open the whitewashed front door when Joe Jr. drove into the front yard.
“Pa, what do ya think’s gonna’ happen next?”
“Son, what da your mean? I ain’t heard what’s happened first.”
“Wher’ya been? Didn’t ya have on the raa-de-oo? Them damn Japs done bumbed theHawaiian Islands. Tore ’em all up. Lotta soldiers and sailors killed. Last report said they done sunk a whole lotta ships. We’re in it fur sure. Hope you got the bus ready ’cause they’re gonna need everybody they can git to build them boats at the Navy yard.”
“Hell, Son, don’t worry ’bout the bus. Found that oil leak and she’s rarin’ to go. What ‘bout you? Where’re ya in that draft thang? You gonna git called up mighty fast, I s’pect.”
“You’re damn right, Pa. I’ll probably be gone ‘fore we’re through hog killin’. Ain’t that the damnedest?”
“What da ya mean, Son?”
“Don’t cha see? I’m killin’ hogs and then, ’fore ya know it, I’ll be killin’ Japs.”
Effie Harrison walked home from William Jordan’s, feeling as if world events far from Madison would somehow change her life. But when she realized how far away Hawaii was, her spirits lightened. How would a war over thee ever make any difference in her life? She felt secure in her job, the pay wasn’t bad, and Mr. William was a good man, even if he stomped around the house when he was put out with her. But what ‘bout Thomas?
“Thomas, is dat you? Ya musta heard the news. Ain’t it sumpin? A goin’ to war. Why can’t folks jest learn to live together?”
“Ma, you know I can’t answer that question. I jest know we’re in for a long fight, and your son’ll probably be in ’fore long. I figured I was already high on the draft list, and, now, I’ll be gone sooner than I ’spected. The way they been takin’ us niggers means I’ll be right up there. I jest hope they’ll hold my job for me while I’m gone.”
“You really think ya’re gonna have ta go so soon? My only son. What’ll ya do? I mean, will ya have to kill somebody? Can’t ’magine my son doin’ sumpin’ like dat. The preacher’s always tellin’ us dat the Good Lord says we should luv our neighbors no matta’ who dey are. And talkin’ ’bout the preacher, I got to git ready for church. I wantsta hear what my preacher’s got to say this afternoon. Are you comin’, Thomas?”
“Naw, Ma. I’s gonna stay here. Don’t need no preacher right now.”
Martha had been home alone Sunday afternoon. About four thirty, Mary Alice Barham called, so distraught that Martha was convinced Tom had done something awful.
“What will happen to our boys, Martha?”
“What da ya mean what will happen to our boys, Mary Alice? Jimmy’s fine. He’s off with his dad and granddad. Is John all right?”
“Martha, you mean you’ve not heard? We’re at war. The Japs bombed theHawaiian Islandsthis afternoon, and now the radio is sayin’ they’ve attacked thePhilippines”.
“No, Mary Alice I hadn’t heard a word, not a word. I had some peace and quiet ’round here so I thought I’d better git in some serious sewin.”
“Wel-l-l, it’s true. The Japs have gotten us into this war. And, I’m jest worried sick ’bout what’ll happen to our boys. Their fathers jest missed the last one, and it looks like our sons will be in this one, certainly if it lasts for five or six years.”
“Mary Alice, I hardly know what, what to say. I’m lost for words. We’re at war, you say? It’s been declared? I’d better turn my radio on.”
“Well-l-l, not officially, but for all practical purposes we’re at war.”
“But, Mary Alice, five or six years is a long time. Jimmy and John are only thirteen. They’re drafting eighteen year olds. The war’ll be over before they’re eighteen, that’s four years from this coming August. Let’s hope and pray it is.”
“I hope and pray so too, Martha. But I’m already worried sick over what might happen to ’em. You know I’m all alone now ‘cept for John and, of course, Neinni. Did I tell you I have an interview for a job at the mill on Tuesday? Mr. Watterson is seein’ me. I jest hope it works out.”
“Mary Alice, my dear, you already have so much on you. You shouldn’t worry yourself about this war and what’s gonna happen to our young boys. I’ll make a bet with ya that this war will be over by the time our boys have to be in the Army. Now, we both need to calm down a bit. I’m as upset as you, but we can’t do much right now. I need to git my radio on and find out what’s happenin’. I’ll call you tomorrow, or certainly by Tuesday, to find out how your interview went.”
Martha covered her sewing machine and walked down the stairs to turn on the Silvertone. The reports were coming in from several places across the Pacific, from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington. All the news sounded horrible to her. No sooner had she started to absorb the meaning of what she was hearing when James opened the side door.
The Jordan family spent supper time talking about the day’s news. They had conflicting stories as to what places had been bombed, how many men had been killed and how many ships sunk or damaged. James and Martha, in trying to answer Jimmy’s questions, realized how little they knew about Japan and the Far East. They promised themselves to pay more attention to the news every day. Jimmy went to his room and read the chapters in his geography book on Japan, China and the Dutch East Indies. If Miss Ritt was going to talk on Monday about what happened today, he wanted to be prepared. Besides, he figured he’d be hearing a lot about these places from now on.
After washing the dishes Martha sat down to listen to Mrs. Roosevelt’s fifteen minute radio show. As always, the First Lady would say a few words about her work as the President’s wife. Martha, who was coming to admire this woman, did not care what some of their friends thought of Mrs. Roosevelt. James would want to listen to his shows starting atseven o’clock, but this was her time to have the radio. She dialed the station.
“The Pan American Coffee Bureau is proud to sponsor this fifteen minute program, Mrs. F. D. Roosevelt. And, now, here is the First Lady speaking from the White House.”
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history. The Cabinet is convening and the leaders in Congress are meeting with the President. The State Department and Army and Navy officials have been with the President all afternoon. In fact, the Japanese ambassador was talking to the President at the very time thatJapan’s airships were bombing our citizens inHawaiiand thePhilippinesand sinking one of our transports loaded with lumber on its way toHawaii.
By tomorrow morning the members of Congress will have a full report and be ready for action.
In the meantime, we the people are already prepared for action. For months now the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads and yet it seemed impossible to believe, impossible to drop the everyday things of life and feel that there was only one thing which was important—preparation to meet an enemy no matter where he struck. That is all over now and there is no more uncertainty.
We know what we have to face and we know that we are ready to face it.
I should like to say just a word to the women in the country tonight. I have a boy at sea on a destroyer, for all I know he may be on his way to the Pacific. Many of you all over the country have boys in the services who will now be called upon to go into action. You have friends and families in what has suddenly become a danger zone. You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart and yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears.
We must go on about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can and when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others, to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of theUnited States of America.
To the young people of the nation, I must speak a word tonight. You are going to have a great opportunity. There will be high moments in which your strength and your ability will be tested. I have faith in you. I feel as though I was standing upon a rock and that rock is my faith in my fellow citizens.
Now we will go back to the program we had arranged. . . .
Martha listened to the rest of the program as Mrs. Roosevelt interviewed a soldier. She did not pay much attention to the interview but dwelled on what the First Lady had said about feeling anxious about the future and the sacrifices that everyone would have to make. She sat there in deep thought until James asked if he could change the station. She murmured a yes and walked to their bedroom, closed the door and began to weep.