Lest We Forget

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wednesday is the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It was and still is a tragic occurrence, even for those of us who were not born yet.

Every year we remember the men who died at Pearl Harbor, and we should. But did you know that women and children experienced the terror, too?

This summer I purchased a copy of The Children of Battleship Row,* which is a memoir by Joan Zuber Earle. Her father was a major in the Marines, and in 1940 he was assigned to Oahu in the then territory of Hawaii. His family went with him, and they moved onto Ford Island and into a house just yards from Pearl Harbor.

A year later, nine-year-old Joan and her sister, Peggy, were living an idyllic existence. Then came December 7, 1941.

Joan and Peggy had been helping their mother prepare the pork roast that was to go into the oven before they left for church. The sisters were still in their pajamas when they were interrupted by smoke rising from the nearby ships and bullets raining from strange airplanes. Bullets they had to dodge as they ran for their assigned shelter.

But as they passed the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (the BOQ), the men beckoned them inside to get away from the falling bullets. I'll pick up Joan's narrative after they entered the kitchen.
"Get under something!" said a male voice. Peggy scuttled under the kitchen sink. Mother and I crawled under the large wooden kitchen table in the center of the room. Huddle, hide, we are safe for a minute, my brain recorded.

Whomp!!!!!  An explosion louder than any crack of thunder or volcanic eruption shook the building, immediately followed by a rain of fire. Even from under the table where I was kneeling, I could see clearly out the kitchen windows. The familiar greenery outside the building was obliterated. On three sides, flaming material now filled the sky. Peggy could see as well from where she was crouched. The BOQ's on fire, I thought. The BOQ's on fire! We're going to be trapped in here and burned up.

I'd never been a screamer, but now I became hysterical. I felt sure that the roof over our heads was already in flames. Stark terror swallowed me. I began yelling words I thought I would never say, "I hate Ford Island. I hate Ford Island. I want to go back to the mainland!"

Mother, kneeling next to me, held my shaking body in her arms. For some reason, she was not screaming, nor was my sister. But I have never fully recovered from what my mother said next: "Don't cry, Joan. Don't cry. Marines don't cry. Don't ruin the morale of the men."

I stopped. After that, I turned my screams inward, becoming mute in my terror.
Joan and her family survived Pearl Harbor. But it took an emotional toll that I can't even imagine.

December 7, 1941 affected the men who died. It affected their families and friends. It affected those who lived through it. And it affects each of us because, as my distant ancestor said, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."**

So let us never forget Pearl Harbor.

*Although I highly recommend The Children of Battleship Row, it appears to be out of print. And nobody can pry my copy out of my fingers to borrow it.

** From "Meditation XVII" by John Donne.

1 comment:

Loree Huebner said...

Beautiful post, Kathryn.

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