It's December 1941 - 68 years ago.
The United States minesweeper Condor spots a periscope near the harbor. It's pre-dawn and everything is quiet. It's 7:00 a.m. Radar is picking up something. There is an unidentified plane headed toward Oahu. U.S. bombers had left California earlier. Surely this was just them.
A message was sent. Decoding delayed its transmission. It's now 7:33 and a civilian radio message center receives the warning.
7:40 - the first wave of Japanese planes arrive in Oahu.
7:49 - Japanese command orders attack.
7:55 - the first strike occurs.
8:10 - the battleship Arizona explodes.
Things would never be the same again.
Here in Cleveland it was later in the day. People were going about their usual Sunday duties. Kay Duffy was busy making wedding plans. She was getting ready to marry Jim Flanagan in just a few weeks.
Kay remembers hearing the news and the family all-huddling around the radio so as not to miss even one report. Three of Kay's brothers were already in the military one signed up shortly after. Needless to say they were all frightened, but they had a sense of security because President Roosevelt was at the helm.
Meanwhile, her fiancé, Jim, and his friends were working when the news came across the radio. Their initial reaction was "let's go get 'em". Somebody had dared to attack Hawaii and they all wanted immediate retaliation. Again - like the rest of the country, Jim and his friends stood squarely behind President Roosevelt as the war progressed.
Eight-year-old Bea Scanlon (later to be Mrs. Casey Choromanski) was in the car with her family driving back from visiting her brother in the seminary in Pennsylvania. Although she was too young to really have it sink in at the time, she vividly remembers the tension in the car when the news was reported.
She also remembers the talk of her older brothers, would they have to go away? As it turned out, they did, and her brother, Tom Scanlon, was killed in France.
Another woman I spoke to recalls listening to the Irish program on the radio when they cut in and made the announcement. Her parents were terribly upset. She didn't know what to do - would her brothers have to leave? What about her father? Would their house be attacked? How could she prepare? Was her street about to be invaded? All valid questions for a young child whose security was being pulled out from under her.
It seems most people had the same reaction - young and old alike. Everybody wanted to know what would happen next. Were they safe? Was their family safe? Many young men enlisted. But one thing remained constant with every person who talked about his or her memories. The country stood united, bound together by a common thread of patriotism.
This, of course, begs the question: "Is it the same now after September 11th as it was after Pearl Harbor?"
Most people say no. "It was different then." says retired Marine, Steve Drotleff " We knew who the enemy was. They had a uniform. We knew who we were after. Now we're not fighting a country, we're fighting terrorists and they could be the person sitting next to you on a bus. You just don't know. It's different."
Navy vet, Bob Prohaska feels the same way "It's completely different to be fighting soldier to soldier. When you fight terrorists you never really know who the enemy is. But the one thing that's the same is that people are proud to be Americans and show their support"
Other people I talked to feel very much like Steve and Bob. They are concerned for our soldiers going into countries where they can't identify the people who want to kill them. They agree that today's modern weaponry is much more sophisticated, but they are not certain sophistication is the answer to this type of battle.
Jim Flanagan adds, " That was war. This is terrorism. These people are too cowardly to put on a uniform and say, "This is who we are and this is what we stand for." So that means more people are going to die. But not because of war - because of terrorism!"
A few people I spoke to think there are strong similarities. Not so much in the type of war being fought, but in the fear and underlying tension everyone is experiencing now, just as they did then. You don't know what's going to happen next, but you are waiting for something.
And as we were 60 years ago the country is strongly behind the President. We are again united with that same bond of patriotism.
For most, the memories of Pearl Harbor are at the same time fading and vivid. They all remember what they were doing when they heard the news. Simple, mundane, day-to-day tasks stopped abruptly by the news. In some cases they don't remember the conversations family and friends had about what was going on, but they vividly remember being told to "hush" every time the news came on.
Memories of Pearl Harbor will remain strong as long as there are people alive to tell the story. It is a story worth telling and worth re-telling. Movies and books try to capture the feeling of that day, but the stories of the people who lived it will always hold the most impact.
What were you doing December 7, 1941? Do you remember?
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