December 7, 1941 – this day 75 years ago. The further away we get from those pivotal moments in our history, the more they fade from our collective memory and are replaced by something else, some other horrifying event that turned our lives upside down.
For those of you born during the last decade or two of the 20th century, September 11, 2001 will go down as your Day of Infamy; the day you remembered exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news and felt the chaos and helplessness.
But if you were born in the 1940s or 1950s, and your parents or grandparents were around then, this day; December 7, 1941 was their Day of Infamy – the day the world changed, the day they remembered exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, and how they reacted to the chaos and helplessness.
Like September 11, December 7th 1941 started off as any other day. It was a Sunday, there was a war going on in Europe and we had, for the most part, stayed out of it. It was only a matter of time and circumstances before we were tossed into the chaos, but not this day; a Sunday, of all days. Japan had become an Axis power, forming an alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy – a turn of political events in recent years and a nationalistic fervor made the outlook in the Far East doubtful, as we became less neutral and Japan became more hostile.
The news of the day that morning reported on the situation in Europe and Japanese gains in the Far East against the British, with reports of Japanese ships moving, presumably towards Thailand, but nothing else. It was, for all intents and purposes, just another Sunday. And it stayed just another Sunday until later on that day, New York time, when the first reports of an attack on the Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii came at the close of a variety program featuring Sammy Kaye, a popular band leader and personality at the time. And then the news bulletins flashed every few minutes as reports of casualties and the full extent of the air attack became known. In the confusion, lines were crossed and news reports were competing with musical programs, not aware of what was happening and only adding to the eerie chaos of it all.
Eventually, the radio networks switched from regular programming to round-the-clock reports and rumors of Japanese ships off the West Coast of the U.S. – and fears that an attack on an American city was imminent. Reserves were called up – Civil Defense was put on the alert, and within hours, America went from just another Sunday to the start of America’s entry into World War 2.
And that will be the day many will remember as the day it all changed.
As a reminder, here is the first newscast of he day and the initial bulletins from the attack on Pearl Harbor from December 7, 1941.
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