Remembering December 7, 1941
Bill McGee recalls …
“On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, John Ruud, Joe Rizzo and I were walking down Broadway in downtown Portland, checking out the movies. All of a sudden, someone opened a store door and shouted to anyone in earshot, “The radio says the Japs just bombed the hell out of us—somewhere called Pearl Harbor!”
“The three of us stood there in shock. The news had been reporting stories about the threat of a war with Japan, but now the facts of the matter were quite different. We forgot about the movies and hurried back to John’s uncle’s house and stayed glued to the radio.
“In time, we would learn the magnitude of the damage to our U.S. Navy. In this long-planned secret attack, some 400 Japanese warplanes took to the skies from the flight decks of six aircraft carriers that were supported by 28 warships and 27 submarines. Precisely on their schedule, at 7:55 a.m., Hawaii time, the Japanese planes appeared suddenly over the unsuspecting U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, eight miles west of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Their mission: to bomb the hell out of the naval base. When the Japanese pilots turned homeward, they had either sunk or severely damaged eight U.S. battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and five other special-mission vessels. In this sneak attack, the Japanese had destroyed 177 Navy and Army aircraft and—worst of all—more than 2,400 Navy, Army, and Marine Corps, and civilian personnel had been killed; 960 were missing, and more than 1,100 were wounded.
“No event in United States history—not the Civil War nor World War I—had ever so shaken this nation.
“The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously described December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” and he declared war on Japan. On December 11, he declared war on Germany. The stage was set: the United States would eventually be fighting a war on two fronts—Europe and the Pacific.
“Like other guys my age, I was gung-ho to get into the fight. Now that we were going to war, I thought the Marines might make an exception to the age requirement of 18 (when the U.S. entered the war, the age requirement to register with a local draft board was changed from 21 to 18). I went to the Marine recruiting office in Vancouver, but there was no way they would take me at 16. However, if one of my parents signed a consent form, they would take me when I turned 17 on September 30, 1942.”
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