December 7, 1995
December 7th, 1941. Reading that date or saying it aloud still calls up images of treachery and the specter of a national nightmare. On that sunny morning, a major part of America's military might was destroyed when Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on the island of Oahu in the unsuspecting territory of Hawaii.
The news shattered a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Perry. Temperatures were approaching the 60s. Worship services had just concluded at most city churches when the radio network news reporters began relaying word of the attack with its devastating results. Pearl Harbor was mortally wounded. Voices on the airwaves were tinged with grave concern as they read successive bulletins to anxious listeners throughout the U.S.
Along with some friends from the Presbyterian church, I had stopped by Brownie's Drug Store on the west side of the square for a quick Coke before going home for the standard Sunday roast beef dinner. On the car radio, word of the assault crackled in the crisp, clear, autumn air of that unseasonably mild December afternoon. Those of us in the car were teenagers but I think we understood most of the implications of that bloody event.
Earlier that spring I had become a reporter for The Perry Daily Journal. Though young and very green, I realized that the attack meant my country was going to war, and that was by far the biggest news event of my brief career. In those days before television, people relied on their daily newspapers for details and commentary on every major happening, and I knew The Journal would have to put out an "extra" edition that Sunday afternoon to service readers in this area. Our regular publication schedule was Monday through Friday afternoon and mid-day on Saturday, just as it is now. Normally there was no Sunday edition of The Journal, but on that fateful Sunday afternoon there were two editions.
Checking in at home before going to The Journal to help with the anticipated extra, I discovered my mother was busy in the kitchen and had not yet heard the news. I told her what I had just been hearing and we switched on the radio. It was especially stressful for mother because my sister, Jeanice, was on the island of Oahu with her husband, 1st Lt. Sydney L. Wade, who was stationed with the Army at Schoffield Barracks, one of the prime targets of the Japanese warplanes. Jeanice and Syd's four-year-old daughter, Sydney Jean, also was there. Of course at that early stage of the crisis we had no word on their safety or if they were in peril. Thousands of families throughout this country shared the same anxieties. The Wade family escaped harm in the attack, but we did not know that until the next day.
After settling things down at home I walked the block and a half distance from our house to The Journal office and reported for duty. W. K. Leatherock, editor and publisher, did not normally involve himself in the daily details of putting out a newspaper, but on this momentous day he was in command. Francis Thetford, managing editor, was my boss. He was preoccupied transcribing stories received from United Press via a voice link. A headset was clamped to his ears for that purpose but a steady stream of curious visitors surged in and out of the small newsroom Francis and I occupied, and he had to admonish them several times to be quiet while he flailed away at a manual typewriter keyboard as the steady, grim succession of war news reached his headset.
Jane Schneider, our newly arrived women's editor from the Oklahoma A.&M. College school of journalism, was on hand. Most of the crew arrived without having to be summoned. Printers in the mechanical department were killing out the front page from Saturday's paper in preparation for the first extra. Most of the inside pages from Saturday were undisturbed except where some portions had to be removed to make way for spillover from the front page. Charlie Armstrong was the chief makeup man. Harry Jones was mechanical superintendent. Peb Gaskill headed the Linotype crew. Circulation manager Merl Edwards was notifying Journal carrier-salesmen to prepare for home deliveries.
Mr. Leatherock and Francis assigned me to do a story about local men stationed in Hawaii, and I began trying to track down names. Several quickly came to mind and I checked with their family members by telephone. Besides the Wades, I came up with Lambert Johnson, 21, son of Mr. and Mrs. From Johnson, a third class Navy petty officer; Warren Ryan, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul V Ryan, a sailor aboard the USS Oregon; Elza Fitzhugh, 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Fitzhugh, a Field Artillery corporal; Jack Powers, 23, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. S. Powers, a Navy petty officer at Pearl Harbor; and Paul Hicks, 22, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. S. Hicks, a first class seaman aboard the USS Portland. All of them came through the bombing without injury.
George Butler, a clerk at the post office and a veteran of the first World War, was one of those hanging around the newsroom to keep track of developments. His son, George Jr., was in the Army Air corps and would later perish in the Pacific. George Sr. soon would offer himself for the Navy Seabees. James G. Heck, manager of Houston-McCune Lumber, Co. and also a World War I vet, came in to listen to the news. He and Mr. Leatherock had served together in France and both had been wounded. Journal employees and visitors alike, wore solemn expressions and conversations were mostly in subdued tones.
The first Sunday afternoon extra had a banner headline in two-inch bold capital letters stretched across the front page: "JAPAN ATTACKS U.S. BASES." Beneath it was a smaller line: "Bombers Blast Manila, Pearl Harbor." UP stories describing the attack, its devastation and the reaction of President Roosevelt, congressional leaders and military authorities occupied most of the front page. My piece about local men in Hawaii had a three column head at the bottom of the page. The day's second extra, printed only a few hours after the first, contained an update on our heavy, tragic casualties.
Some of the local stories from Saturday's edition showed the degree of tranquility existing here and across the U.S. on the day before the attack. Among them was an item from Marsh Woodruff, Chamber of Commerce secretary, announcing that the C-C had raised a record amount of $1,855.50 in its annual fund drive. Another reported that the Agricultural Administration Agency (AAA) office was moving from the post office basement to the Hall building just north of the Perry Theater on Sixth street. J. D. Nelson was county administrative officer.
The next day, Dec. 8, 1941, The Journal's heavy black banner again was in two-inch bold type and announced: "U.S. AT WAR." It also contained the full text of President Roosevelt's "day of infamy" address to Congress, when the declaration of war was formally adopted.
In a matter of months I was a member of the Army of the United States, along with hundreds of thousands of other young men. For all of us, and for this country as a whole, it was a loss of innocence. We would never again see the world as it had been before that sunny Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.