Sunday, December 07, 2008

December 7, 1941

Each year there are fewer of us to remember and bear witness to the day the Japanese attack changed us from children of the Depression to what Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation.

On the anniversary this year, Americans are thinking more about the hard times of the 1930s than World War II, but with the terror of Mumbai fresh in our minds, the shock of Pearl Harbor has resonance as well.

I was 17 that day, standing next to a young man with a dazed grin, staring through the picture window of a hospital nursery as a nurse in white mask held up a sleeping baby. A minute later, she drew the curtain.

Newborns were kept isolated then and, as a college student, my part-time job was to hand the new father a hospital gown and lead him to the window. The babies all looked alike. The real show was on our side of the glass: a man’s eyes flooding with pride, wonder and worry.

But then sudden death six thousand miles away shattered those tableaus of new life. Happy faces at mothers’ bedsides turned to stone, nurses and doctors looked lost behind their masks of composure.

The next day, I was in the Great Hall of City College of New York, my eyes on a huge mural, a black-robed graduate amid flying cherubs and, in togas, the figures of Wisdom, Discipline and Alma Mater pointing to a bright future.

From a loudspeaker the voice of the only President I could remember (FDR took office on my ninth birthday) was telling of a day that will live in infamy and saying we are at war.

There was no 24/7 news but every night at 8:55, the chilling radio voice of Elmer Davis told of battles in Europe and the Pacific. We saw and heard so little news then, but we never for a minute forgot that our young people were dying in distant places.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Stein, thank you for sharing your memories. My parents married January 25, 1941 and were both Duke University graduates living in Durham, NC. They were having breakfast when they learned of the bombing. It was an entirely new world for them and the reason I exist. Sadly, they are no longer among us but they were definitely part of the Greatest Generation and I am proud to be their daughter. JP

Kerri said...

Mr. Stein, thank you so much for your posting today! I wrote a little note about "Remembering Pearl Harbor" on my blog and linked my post to your blog because I wanted people to read your memories! I need to write down my memories of where I was when the Persian Gulf War began -- living in Germany with two small children and my AF husband was in Saudi Arabia with the 53rd Tigers! Thank you again...please stop and visit my blog if you get a chance!