Thursday, December 8, 2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor Again

Its 4:40 a.m. and I am watching the western sky outside my kitchen slider in preparation for the spectacular lunar eclipse due about 6 Saturday morning. I'm annoyed because I will be alone. Until a week ago radio listeners would be calling in all over the greater Bay Area sharing their moment to moment celestial experience of the eclipse.

Whereas reading and painting are terribly important to me, radio is my dear companion, especially now that I live alone. Most tv bores me. Last Friday radio station KGO announced it was discontinuing its long policy of talk radio in favor of mostly news. Angry, despondent and devastated I wondered what I would do without my faithful old friend, KGO? I am in the habit of listening to it almost every waking moment and most of my sleeping moments too. That's over now. The new format stinks. Goodbye KGO. I'll survive, but not without a whimper. In the forty years I've been a KGO addict I've only called in twice, once to share the following story, so if you read it in my blog last year, bear with me. My writing is improving even if my disposition is not. Perhaps it will help you understand why radio has always been the media with such an imprint on me.

My father sits in his unmoving mahogany rocking chair good ear pressed to the speaker of the brown Philco radio console. I shiver watching the wetness from under his trifocals spread down his unshaven cheeks. Daddy never shaved on Sundays, so the dark stubble is normal. The other six days of the week he dresses in dark blue business suit, vest, tie and felt hat, his business clothes. Proud of his position, I often accompany him to work on Saturdays. He is a self-educated man but quite brilliant in math and engineering. At this time he is the district plant supervisor for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph in Seattle. His office and staff seem impressive to my adoring eyes. I know he is on the cutting edge of sonar and radar for other cities and government entities are always calling on him to consult. Sometimes I am allowed to ride with him on business trips or on the Telephone Company barge as they are maintaining underwater cable in Puget Sound. You can imagine how all of this is impressive to an adolescent.

What was unnerving on this particular day was that I had never before seen him cry, and in my eleven-year old eyes fifty years was very old to begin crying. It was Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the day that President Roosevelt said would “live in infamy”. The radio announcer on KIRO was reporting the sinking of our fleet in Pearl Harbor from Japanese bombers. Battleships Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona were sinking, and the death toll was mounting to over 2,000 sailors and flyers. With each new report Daddy’s shoulders seemed to slump more. That’s all I remember of the day. Even now, seventy years later, I can feel the qualms of bewilderment I felt that morning. It was probably ten years later before my sister shared the rest of the story.

It seems that about July of 1941 my sister, four years older, answered our home phone. The party on the other end asked for our father stating it was important: the President’s office calling. Roosevelt was worried about inadequate communication with Pearl Harbor and he was requesting that my father take his family and move immediately to Honolulu to establish a system of better communication between Pearl Harbor and the White House. Daddy shared all this with my sister but I guess I was too young to be consulted. He was torn between answering the call of his country and moving his children to what was then considered a foreign country. Heavy hearted, he declined, mostly for the benefit of my education.

Much historical data now released confirms that Roosevelt was indeed expecting the attack. The bombing of Pearl Harbor served as a means to get Congress to declare war in Europe, something that needed to happen. Perhaps it was scripted. Sadly my father was never to know the true facts, and with each new casualty report Daddy’s pain and guilt mounted. He felt personally responsible for each death.

He lived another four years before his heart gave out. In retrospect, he never quite seemed to regain his spirit.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Very vivid... i realize Roosevelt probably expected the attacks butI hate to believe that it was scripted for political expediency? Stranger things have happened.