December Seventh was an ordinary day for me back in 1941. My year of service in the Draft was almost over, and I was in a relaxed mood. Five more months and I would go back to civilian life and be shut of the army.
I had volunteered that sunday to stay behind in the message center in the U. of South Carolina to write letters while the rest of the crew went to Columbia, SC for lunch. The phones and the teletypes were quiet, and I had almost finished a letter to my mother when the teletype rang. It took a long time printing out all the addresses of what seemed to be the entire US Army before the message finally arrived.
It was short. "Activate plan Rainbow One", it said, and it was signed by George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff. Almost immediately the phone rang and the wife of the Intelligence Officer called and asked me to tell her husband to turn on the radio and listen to the news. We listened together and heard ".......and bombed Pearl Harbor and Manilla at seven o'clock this morning"...
I had to leave because it seemed that all the phones started ringing at once! "Where is Pearl Harbor, and should I report now?" was the common question, and it was a while before it was answered.
Those who had them, buckled on guns, and everyone wanted to know what in Hell was Plan Rainbow One? In the hours that followed the room became crowded with officers from the rank of General down to bewildered Privates such as me. The guys who had gone to town slowly drifted in and helped. The general ordered me to stay on duty till he told me to leave. It wasn't till midnight that a relief crew finally arrived in the Message Center.
At the gate to Fort Jackson a traffic jam was evident as the cabs and busses were denied entance. Soldiers returning from town were forced to walk from the gate to their barracks. The camp was on a war-time footing.
It looked like all plans for Christmas leave were cancelled, and rumors started and were added to each day. Finally, things settled down to a regular routine with the exception that soldiers on guard duty were now issued live ammunition.
Six months later after an accellerated training program, I was on a troopship headed for a place called Guadalcanal and all thoughts of civilian life were behind me. Instead of Guadalcanal, the ship went to New Zealand and picked up battle-wounded men for transport to a hospital in Australia. The voyage from Auckland to Sydney was a sobering one from that point on.
Three years later, during which I witnessed several of my friends dying in remote places in the south west pacific area I finished my last battle in the Phillipines. After the Japanese were driven out out of Manilla planning was started for the assault on the Japanese home islands. I was given the chance to return home for a 21-day rest and recuperation leave before the invasion began.
The war in Europe was winding down, and more and more soldiers were being diverted from the ETO to the Pacific area. I discovered that the new "point system" recently announced gave me more points than I needed for immediate discharge. As a result, before the 21-day period of my leave was finished in June 1945, I became a married man, and a discharged soldier. Shortly after that the Atom bombs were dropped and VJ Day became a reality.
Most of my friends were still waiting for discharge from the service, or a military hospital, and I became aware of the many who would never return. I learned to not stare at a mutilated body or become too emotional when talking to the mother or the widow of many of my friends.
As the months and the years went by, I went to reunions and swapped lies with the other veterans, and accumulated group pictures, some of which now hang on my wall. There is also a recent picture of me at the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu. You can't see the tears in my eyes as I searched for the names of several friends who had perished with the Arizona. My mind was filled with thoughts of others, whose names would be found in a remote military cemetery.
I wonder if those bodies we buried after battles in Buna, Hollandia, Biak, or Luzon have been moved back home? I wonder if they know that the war has ended? Are ghosts of the dead soldiers still resident on Hickham field and Ford Island?
For the veterans of the Pacific War, the move into combat status was immediate during and after December 7, 1941. We sometimes were discouraged knowing that the European theatre was was the first priority, but we were jubilant when our '03 Springfield rifles were replaced by M1 Carbines.We were too busy chasing the enemy around the Pacific to worry too much about shortages of supplies. We made do with what we had, and were happy when the war in Europe ended.
Pearl Harbor will always be in our minds, and those who survived "...The Day of Infamy", and went on to end the war in the Pacific will always remember Sunday, December 7th, 1941.