Last week we observed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. This date has joined a few others in the genre known as "Do you remember where you were when…"
Those days, sad to say, are coming around more often in our generation than most of us would care for. But then I suppose each generation has had its share of such occurrences. Citizens of past history might have asked “Where were you when Paul Revere came down that road…” or “Remember when Lincoln was shot…” but I would suspect that you are getting the picture.
There is one such day coming up next week, one of which I have written of many times in the past. And though I make vows to myself that shout “enough, already” I continue inserting a paragraph or two about the event. I am, of course, referring to the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
I suppose that the principal reason for this is because the attack on Pearl was, without a doubt, the most traumatic experience of which I was ever to be a part. In retrospect, in the beginning I suppose I was rather reluctant to talk about it. There really was little reason for this. I was not suffering from any of those ailments which afflict present day warriors. Some wag, one day, had stated that the Post War syndrome had not as yet been invented. It was none of those things. It just was.
I think it was in 1966 (or thereabouts) that the Star-News came out with a special featuring Pearl Harbor. This was a group of survivors stating their experiences during the attack. I wrote a short piece at that time. I also began associating with other survivors meeting from time to time and exchanging war stories. Locally I knew two of them quite well since we had been together on the Detroit at the beginning of the war. One of these was Herve Fortin who lived in Chula Vista. He, like me, was career navy who retired and went to work at Sharps. In his Chula Vista days he took up golf and we both became part of a small group that used to meet at the old 32nd Street pitch and putt and get in a few holes. Afterward we would have lunch at the small pavilion and talk, not about Pearl but about our golf game. The other was Andrew Nush who lived in Lemon Grove. He was active in the association for a while but bad health set in.
In 1991, the 50th anniversary of the attack, the Star News came out with another special issue highlighting the attack. I had the opportunity to interview a number of survivors. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association come into being at this time and was a rather strong unit in the San Diego area with many members in the local chapter. One of the members with whom I spent some time was John Finn. He was a Medal of Honor recipient who had been stationed at the air station in Kaneohe and was quite busy during the attack, shooting back and caring for the wounded, of which he was one. He had a ranch in the Boulevard area and raised everything from dogs to cows. I recall Finn showing me around the vast acreage speaking a mile a minute, not about the war, but about his ranch.
Finn lived to be 100 and died a few years ago.
One of the most distinctive interviews I had was not a sailor or marine but a young lady.
Pat Thompson was 10 years old and lived with her navy family right outside the entrance to Pearl. Her story started the night before at a dance at the base. Though she was just a child she was paired with a young sailor and won the jitterbug contest at the Saturday night dance. From a friendly dance her life turned topsy turvy when, the next morning, she witnessed the havoc caused by the enemy from her bedroom window.
President Roosevelt, in his address to congress and the American people the next day, dubbed it as “A day of infamy.” It certainly joins the ranks of those days that are in the category of “What were you doing the time that…”
Quite sadly it ranks at the top of such days with many of us.