Witnessing History

The thought occurred to me that whether or not we put it to words and paper, we all witness  history through our lives. Think how many leave this world with their secrets. I’ve documented only a few. You go through these posts and you’ll see Lex left a few stories of his family.

I can tell you where I was when I first heard of President Kennedy’s assassination (at the Jr High between classes). During 9/11 I was commuting to work, and not believing what I was hearing on the radio.

My late father heard the news of Pearl Harbor when he was a student at UCLA. I had thought all these years that he said that he was at a football game, but in looking up the 1941 schedule they had a game December 6, vs. USC. A few months later, like countless others, he would join the Army, ending up in the 82nd Airborne Division. He would never finish college when the war ended, having done 3 years. I asked my mother why, as it wouldn’t have been that much effort, and she said that he felt that he should be making some money.

My mother was a student at West Virginia University, in Morgantown. She was having lunch, Hawaii time being 5 hours behind. Like my father, almost overnight the male students started enlisting. The government started sending soldiers and sailors to WVU studying who-knows-what.

Even 77 years after Pearl, my mother doesn’t like to talk about the war. She lost a beau, a Navy pilot, somewhere over the Pacific.

She did say that during this time, there was a hurricane warning at the Virginia Coast and almost overnight squadrons of Navy planes flew to little Morgantown to wait it out. I’m picturing in my imagination the little airport filled with Navy planes.

It seems that the longer we distance ourselves from these events, the less they are acknowledged. Maybe that is a natural thing for those who didn’t witness it. Even our collective memory of 9-11 seems to be receding.

But we should always acknowledge December 7, 1941. Like WW1, it put our country on a completely different arc. I did a review on a book of Charles Lindbergh awhile back. The author made it a point that he was against intervention in the war with Hitler, being prominent in the “America First” movement. He was a thorn in Franklin Roosevelt’s side, and after December 7th it would cost him. He desired prominate jobs to help in the war effort, such as overseeing plane production at Ford, and these were all forbidden.

Before Pearl Harbor, a sizable percentage of Americans sided with Lindbergh – I have heard up to 50%.

That would change after December 7th.

I am plodding though a book on the last year in the Pacific War, and I find it fascinating. The closer we got to the main islands of Japan, the more fanatical the Japanese became.

As costly as Iwo Jima was, by the time we got to Okinawa 17% of all Pacific causalities were on that island. The Japanese were organizing a “last stand” for the home islands, called Ketsu-Go. The plan for the invasion of the home Islands, Operation Downfall, was complete with the invasion of the island of Kyushu being the first island. Unlike Normandy with beaches named Omaha and Sword, the Japanese beaches were named after cars such as Packard and Buick. With Ketsu-Go, the Japanese knew that they had no hope of winning but they wanted to make the invasion so costly that they would have favorable terms.

In anticipation of the projected causalities, the Pentagon ordered 500,000 Purple Heart medals.

Because of the Bomb, all of this became unnecessary. As of 1985, the Pentagon still had 120,000 of these WW2 Purple Hearts. It kept the Russians out of Japan (can you imagine a Japan partitioned like Germany?), and probably in the long run, saved Japanese casualties.

Those of my parents generation are considered to be the Greatest Generation. May God bless them.


update 01:22 8 Dec 2018: I’m taking a cue from Lex in that adding to the body or rewriting your post once published is bad form, but I forgot to add this. One of my mother’s late cousins who served in WW2 said that it was widely held in the Navy that Rear Adm. Husband E. Kimmel (commander at Pearl Harbor) and Army General Walter C. Short were scapegoats and thus fired after December 7th.

In the case of Adm Kimmel, her late cousin knew him and said that he was “a good man”. In any case, it has come to light that Washington had decoded at least some of the Japanese military code, and they knew that “something was up”, but did not inform either Kimmel or Short.

I read a book sometime ago that presented – through the FOIA, compelling evidence that the Navy in Washington knew a lot. However the author makes the assertion that Roosevelt knew they would attack, but that, to me, is a bridge too far. According to the author (supporting with declassified Navy cables), they knew the Japanese fleet was moving but they didn’t know the destination. Still, it’s a compelling read.

If anyone deserved “blame” for being unprepared my vote is with Washington, but when do politicians take the blame?




Filed under History

2 responses to “Witnessing History

  1. World War studies has been in our schools curriculum for decades, although it slipped a few years ago, it’s back. My son and his class went to Ypres, Belgium, when he was 14. But schools can’t do it all. I tried to put some ‘flesh on the bones’ He bought me a book whilst he was out there, “In Flanders Fields “, a definitive study by Leon Wolff. What a thoughtful lad my boy is.

    • Bill Brandt

      I’m sorry to say many students in the US are woefully ignorant of even the basic facts of WW2, let alone WW1. And if they don’t even know basic history, how can they argue intelligently about policy in the future?

      BTW Hogday, I have on a wall photographs of people who have passed on, with whom I was close. Among them is a black and white photo of a young girl in pigtails. Gloria “Ginger” Sanigar grew up in London in the 1930s, having to help support her family from the time she was 12 as her father died.

      She talked of places like Primrose Hill and living in subway tubes during the Blitz.

      Living through history.

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