It was 67 years ago today that Japanese forces attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then a U.S. territory. More than 2,400 people -- most of them with the Navy -- died there that day; nearly 1,200 were wounded. (For a thorough, illustrated account of how the attack unfolded, go to http://www.war-veterans.org/Pearl.htm). American soil wouldn't experience as costly an attack for nearly six decades...and it would happen under completely different circumstances.
As the calendar would have it, this year Dec. 7 falls on a Sunday, just as it did then. (Above at right is a Sunday evening "extra" of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.) So it gives us an extra sense of the mood America was in when that fateful day began.
The nation -- having watched world hostilities the past few years -- had already been rearming for some time, although most of it was done for defensive reasons. There were still many isolationists, though their influence was waning. (Earlier in 1941, a congressional committee examined whether the film industry, through the release of movies such as "Confessions Of A Nazi Spy" and "The Great Dictator," was not being neutral but in fact serving the anti-Nazi cause.)
Many Americans figured the U.S. would eventually be drawn into the war -- but given the Eurocentric nature of our society then, it was generally believed it would occur as a result of something happening on the European front.
Just as Nov. 22, 1963 and Sept. 11, 2001 become "where were you" and "what were you doing" dates in the American psyche, so did Dec. 7, 1941. For the movie industry, it was a day off, as all Sundays were, a respite from the Monday-Saturday work grind (it was common practice for studios to work on Saturdays). For example, noted director Michael Curtiz, whose greatest triumph ("Casablanca") was yet to come, was skeet shooting with friends. Milton Berle and his newlywed were honeymooning at Lake Arrowhead.
So what was Carole Lombard doing that Sunday, 40 days before her untimely death indirectly caused by Pearl Harbor? According to Larry Swindell's biography "Screwball," she was with husband Clark Gable: "The Gables were watching a Sunday football game when they heard the first reports of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. They left Gilmore Stadium at halftime, and drove to the ranch..."
This account has to be called into question. News of the attack came at about 2:25 p.m. Eastern time, which would have been 11:25 a.m. on the West Coast. It's highly unlikely the football game would have begun at any time before 1 p.m. -- and while mass communication in those days was nowhere as sophisticated as it is now, word of the attack certainly would have spread before kickoff, much less halftime. (In the east, public address systems at New York's Polo Grounds and Washington's Griffith Stadium -- where NFL games were being played that day -- paged military officials to report to their offices, without disclosing the reason why.) Perhaps Carole Sampeck at The Carole Lombard Archive can fill us in with more information on what Lombard was doing that day.
The following day, Dec. 8, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress, from which the subject quote derives. America's arsenal, once largely a defensive one, would now be amplified to respond to this attack.
Sixty-seven years later, we remember Pearl Harbor and salute those who died that terrible day, those who left us in ensuing years, and the dwindling number who survived and are still with us -- many of whom have gathered at Pearl Harbor today.