December 7, 1941 I remember!
By Bill Shepard
Seventy-four years ago, I remember! It was the day that President Roosevelt said, “Would live in infamy!” The announcement came from the small radio that was on a shelf in the crowded room where this writer was seated. The President was telling America about the attack by the Japanese on the American Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor. As he spoke, it is doubtful, but that any person in that room had ever heard the words, Pearl Harbor, before.
The President told of the devastation of the attack upon the Fleet, and declared that the enemy would pay for its sneak attack. His words were spoken with deliberateness and resolve. The enemy would be defeated, and nothing short of “Unconditional Surrender” would be accepted!
It was a stunned and somber group in that place where my oldest brother and I were present. Some in the group, including my brother, were home on a weekend pass from Fort Bragg where they were stationed. They were members of Battery F, a National Guard Unit from Darlington that had been mobilized into the Army just weeks before.
The voice continued, “All military personnel absent from their base are requested to return as early as possible!” There were no TVs in those days, and not everyone had a radio, but word of the happenings spread rapidly from home to home.
The small group that had gathered for an evening of fun dispersed quickly. My brother and I left immediately for home to gather his few belongings and return to Fort Bragg. We had done this on other occasions, but this one was different. We were now at war!
I shall never forget the moments following my brother’s departure, after saying goodbye to the family gathered about him. My brokenhearted mother fell to her knees weeping and praying. My saddened Dad stood by, while this writer and his two younger sisters looked on. Another brother was somewhere else in the world, serving in the Navy. He had enlisted in the Navy two years earlier. We had to wonder where he was, and what was happening to him. My two little sisters and I were left to watch the lines of worry and concern spread across the faces of our parents.
I would be of little comfort to my mom and dad as they both knew as they both knew how much I wanted to join the military and go away! As I grew more restless, my Dad grew more determined that he would not sign papers for me to enlist! I had been a member of Battery F, a National Guard unit, but when the Unit was mobilized, Dad had insisted that I be discharged. Because of my young age, I needed Dad’s permission to join. I had no choice but to accept his decision.
Unless the reader could have been a young boy at that time, it would have been hard to understand the feeling that I felt each time I saw another young boy in military uniform! When I would hear the stories they would tell of their adventures in places far away, I would beg my Dad to allow me to enlist. His answer was always the same, “No!”
The war had begun on that day in December in gathering momentum. Recruiting offices were jammed with young men enlisting. Posters with the words, “Uncle Sam Needs You” were placed in store windows and street corners everywhere. It seemed that every time I saw one, the finger of Uncle Sam was pointing straight at me! Oh, how I wanted to wear a military uniform!
If I could change the ending of this story by rewriting it, I would gladly do so! If I could make amends and erase the tears I caused to flow on the cheeks of my Mama and Dad, I would! I cannot. Regret is a terrible partner, with which to spend a lifetime. My only comfort has been in knowing that my parents forgave me a long, long time ago. It has taken me much longer to forgive myself; sometimes, I wonder if I have!
On February 18, 1942, less than three months following Pearl Harbor Day, I joined the Army, along with three of my Darlington friends. None of us had our parent’s consent. Therein lies the guilt! I have never regretted one day that I served in the Army!
As I write, my mind goes back to that day in February o 1942, when Don, Charles, Earl and I were off to play our part in bringing the enemy to an unconditional surrender. It would be 62 years later before the four of us would be together again!
The war that had begun on that December day in 1941 had come to an end. Victory had been won, August 14, 1945 and Japan surrendered, unconditionally! The ceremony was held aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, moored in Tokyo Bay.
The war being ended, America seemed quick to forgive its hated enemy and to embrace it with an unbelievable kindness. Today, Japan is one of our closest allies. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this event in our nation’s history. Settle your differences, forgive and move on! Today, as I write, history is writing again. The world is engaged in battle with a new kind of evil. The end is to be determined. Straight Ahead!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week. His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673