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December 6, 2002

Here's another recollection of Pearl Harbor Day - December 7, 1941, the "day that will live in infamy." My thanks to Elizabeth Treeman Willems for providing this personal memory. This is how Elizabeth recalls that historic day:

"At the remove of sixty-one years, my memories of the first week of December 1941 are blurry. No wonder: my life at that time was a blur. After a year and a half of graduate study at Washington University in St. Louis, I had put my uninspiring thesis on hold, resigned my meal-ticket secretarial job, abandoned my bed (a couch) in the apartment I shared with four other girls, and was preparing to head home to Perry for a month's vacation before I started a new job at Park College, up the Missouri River from Kansas City.

"In between packing my meager belongings (mostly books and thesis notes), I made dazed farewell visits to my Great Uncle Will and Aunt Laura Mars and their families, and to colleagues and friends. Some time toward the end of the week - Thursday? Friday? - I got myself and my stuff down to the railroad station and caught the train to Tulsa, where, by hook or crook, I managed to make connections with the Frisco Doodle Bug to Perry. I remember nothing of the journey or my arrival.

"Probably, but not certainly, I went to church on Sunday, the 7th, to hear our beloved David Thomas preach. Almost surely, Mother (Irene Treeman) afterward served up a Welcome Home dinner: beef roast with potatoes browned alongside, peas and carrots, Harvard beets, Jell-o salad, and one of my favorite desserts-Spanish chocolate cake, lazy daisy sunshine cake, or pineapple upside-down cake.

She, my young sister Francie, and I cleared up the dishes, and then Mother and I retreated upstairs to sort out my dirty clothes (Monday was wash day) and discuss my plans. I was happy, filled with good food, and exhausted. So very soon I begged off, lay down on the bed, and conked out.

"Two minutes later someone was yelling my name. I put the pillow over my head. Then the same fiend was shaking me. 'Get up! Something awful has happened! On the radio! Come downstairs!' Groggily I followed Francie down, to hear the terrible, unbelievable news. Japanese bombers had attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor. No! We were all scared of Hitler, not Japan. It couldn't be true! But it was, as the, radio kept telling us as each snippet of information came through.

"I never took the chance to ask Dad (Ralph Treeman) where he was when the disaster struck, but the rest of us agree that most likely he was out fishing. Brother John had gone to the picture show at the Roxy Theater, during which there was a news flash that neither he nor most of the audience took seriously, for they all stayed till the end of the film. Brother Bill was up at Iowa State University in Ames, where he had recently graduated with a degree in forestry but stayed around to see which military branch would finally claim him (it's too complicated to go into here), and to pursue his romance with his Iowa girlfriend, Maxine Miller.

"According to Francie, Mother kept exclaiming, 'Oh, my boys! My boys!.' She had two brothers, Murray and Ralph McCune, in World War I. Ralph came home, unscathed, but Murray was grievously wounded in the Battle of the Somme, in France, losing his right arm and nearly his life. Now she tried to track Bill down by telephone in Ames and at last caught him at one of his part-time jobs-sweeping out a university building. He hadn't heard the news and was baffled when the first thing she said to him was, 'Don't do anything in a hurry.'

"Life had to go on, of course, Dad and the boys to work, Francie to school, Mother busy with many activities. As much as possible, however, we stayed glued to the broadcasts. The old family rule of no turning on the radio at mealtimes fell by the wayside. We listened raptly to President Roosevelt's famous 'day of infamy' speech on Monday and his appeal to Congress for an immediate declaration of war on two fronts. There was no question about the answer.

"The attack on Pearl Harbor changed all our lives irrevocably. We can't even imagine what we would have become if it hadn't happened. That we are all still around is indeed fortunate."

Thanks to my friend Elizabeth for this colorful memory of the first Pearl Harbor Day.