Stirring up memories
Remembering the day of infamy
December 1, 2004
Remembering the day of infamy
Every generation has dates that will always burn in our memories. We remember where we stood, whom we
embraced, what we said when the news that branded our memories came. For many of
us, no matter the horrors that have followed, December 7, 1941 will forever be
the “Day of Infamy,” Pearl Harbor Day. A day not to be forgotten in a
One thing, perhaps, distinguishes this historic day. For the first time in history, people as
a whole received the news first hand.
A radio, that relatively new instrument (national broadcasting had come
into its own only in the 1930s), was in almost every home, every workplace,
every car. No longer did folks have
to wait for a telegraph, a telephone call or tomorrow’s newpaper. They joined the front lines
And the radio did little but cover the story for hours on end—an early
case of preemptive broadcasting.
One story said that in the first 48 hours following the attack on
Pearl Harbor, broadcasters broke into the
regular programming so often that one exasperated broadcaster announced, “we
interrupt the news flashes to bring you a regularly scheduled program.”
Several years ago, and again last month, I asked members of the Decatur
County Historical Society to recount their memories of that infamous day. The radio figured into almost every
story. (Some of these folks are no
longer with us; I’m glad we have their memories.)
Here they tell
their own stories, starting with the young ones who scarcely knew what the news
meant through those who understood completely the full meaning of the horrific
Erva Drinkwater: I was a five-year-old first grader in
Pelham and not much impressed with “the news.” I recall the grown-ups were pretty much
upset by something they heard on the radio.
Oline Miller Reynolds: I was in Climax, Georgia. I remember BEING FRIGHTENED!! Going to neighbors to listen to the
radio—hearing my mother praying that my brothers wouldn’t have to go!!
William B. (Bill)
Drinkwater: I was nine years old. My dad (Roy Drinkwater) was washing his
car that Sunday in Bainbridge. It
was a beautiful mild day. I was on
the front porch on the swing reading the ‘funny papers’ when the news arrived on
the radio. I still can remember the
look on my dad’s face as he digested that awful news.
Ruth (Presh) Brown: I remember going to Grimsley’s Drugstore
(for curbside service) on the square under the BonAir Hotel. Sunday afternoon activity was a ride in
the car. We were listening to the
radio. My Daddy, a WWI veteran, was
playing golf. We rode out and told
him about the bombing.
Gloria Coppinger: “I was in Donalsonville at my
grandmother’s house. We children
were outside playing when the adults heard it on the radio. We didn’t understand why they were so
Jean Attaway: I lived in Denver, Colorado. We had gone to church and later that
afternoon heard on the radio about Pearl
Harbor. Next day in
school we heard about the ships that been sunk and the boys who had joined the
Navy from our school who were on those ships. I was a junior in school at that
Eugenia Whiddon: I was coming home to
Berlin, Wisconsin from the movies in Oshkosh, Wisconsin when we heard it on the radio.
Fredrick Smallwood: I was at Middle Georgia College in Cochran, Georgia as a freshman. I didn’t have a radio, but a boy down
the hall did and heard the news. It
spread all over campus. (Fredrick joined the United States Army in 1943 and
bravely served in the European Theater.)
Nell Hambrick: I was in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember returning to the home where I
was boarding after Young Peoples’ meeting at Grace Methodist Church to hear the news on the radio that
Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor.
Adelaide Wolfe: I was in Atlanta, Georgia. I remember hearing about the attack from
a radio in a midtown bus station behind the Ansley Hotel in downtown Atlanta. I was waiting for a ride with a friend
back to Carlton,
Georgia, where I
was teaching speech and drama. I
had spent the previous night with my cousin who was working in Atlanta. She and I had been the guest of a friend
of hers dining at Wisteria Gardens the night before. Wisteria Gardens specialized in Chinese food, but it turned out
that it was operated by Japanese, and, therefore, closed down immediately on
Pearl Harbor Sunday.
Pauline Brock: I lived in my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Our family heard about Pearl Harbor on the radio. (Pauline went on to serve as a WAVE
during the war.)
Louise Jansenius: I was in Bainbridge. After my husband left for work, at
perhaps 9:30, I heard a report on the radio that the Japanese had attacked
Pearl Harbor. Not much else was known, as the initial
reports came. But our feelings were
of shocked horror and wonder at what would be forthcoming. Shortly, the first reports were
confirmed, and the report that Japan’s Envoy in Washington was discussing peace with our
president even as the pre-daylight bombing had occurred.
Louise Harper Lee: I was in Bainbridge. We were at church—the First African Baptist Church on Sunday. The congregation was very sad. A deacon of our church made the
announcement, and the church members all sat in silence for a long time.
Next Monday, again, we will remember this day—those we lost and those who
served with pride. I thank all who
shared and helped to keep these memories alive for those who will come.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network