December 9, 1941 and America had a bad case of nerves. Rumors flew of hostile plane sightings all up and down the West Coast, with sworn sightings throughout the Pacific Northwest and as far east as Idaho. Sightings of as few as one and as many as “hundreds” of planes were reported everywhere from Vancouver to San Francisco.
The San Francisco reports brought an immediate closing down of the city – blacking it out and taking all radio stations off the air. The dead airwaves only served to panic people in the rest of the country, as it was nearly impossible to get word to New York that things were okay and that San Francisco really wasn’t under attack. Telephone communications were jammed with phone lines tied up, with estimates of upwards to four hours to place a call.
This was the state of the country, two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Rumors and confusion. Speculation was rife, with reporters camped outside the State Department and White House for any word or update. And with no conclusive word as to what was going on with the West Coast, the lack of information became grounds for added fear and anger. Fear that it meant something much bigger was afoot, anger that our Armed forces were caught with their proverbial pants down in the midst of a national emergency.
But beyond all the fear and rumors and speculation, there was no conclusive proof the Continental U.S. was being invaded. In fact, the real concern was with the islands surrounding Hawaii and other Pacific locations which had already been under attack. Manila was still under attack. Singapore had been invaded. Guam was under assault. Those were the facts – but it was rumor, the hysteria whipped up over the notion that maybe an attack of San Francisco was going on, and there was no communication available in the city (at least for some time when communications were established and then lost again) which would prove the allegations to be otherwise.
So this December 9th in 1941 was all about fear and confusion as reported by NBC News as part of their newly implemented round-the-clock service.