The Star-News


Pearl Harbor survivor meets dance partner for one more twirl

Sat, Sep 11 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Pena

Being a writer and a Pearl Harbor survivor, it is only natural that I would, from time to time, write about that day in 1941.

Over the years this has happened a number of times. On examination, almost all of these columns have been about service men, sailors or marines who have had an experience of which they wish to speak. This is, of course, well and good. But how about those survivors of the attack, in other walks of life?

I met with Pat Thompson the other day at the Bonita Golf Club. I could see right off that she was one of those ladies that I call interesting. We were to talk of many things but mainly about an incident that occurred nearly 69 years ago.

In those days Pat Thompson was known as Patsy Campbell and she was ten years old. Her family's home was in the newly built Navy housing that was right outside the main gate of Pearl Harbor. She said that from one side of her house one could see Hickam Field, the U.S. Army airbase, and on the other side, Battleship Row at Pearl.

She always took pride in her status as a "navy brat." She related how the family had recently left a tour of duty in Darien, which was in the jungle of Panama. Her father, Edward Campbell, was a Chief Radioman and his duty station assignments took him and his family to many interesting places.

From our talk the other day I would say that-even to this day-one of Thompson's principal loves is music. She told me that even at that early age she was much enamored of various melodies and dance. She took ballet and learned other routines as well, most of these self-taught and based on what she had seen others do.

One of these was the jitterbug. This dance, as most of us of this generation know, was the dance of the time. The big band era was in full swing-pun intended-at the time and the devotees of dance halls and Trianons and ball rooms were not going to let an engagement go by without, at least, an attendance.

The recreation area in Pearl at that time was no exception. The Bloch Arena was the place to be. On Friday nights, says Pat, it was the boxing matches.

But on Saturday nights it was The Battle of the Bands.

"I was a kid that enjoyed the music and knew how to jitterbug and used to sit or stand on the floor in front of the bands to listen to the music and tap my toes and move to the beat," she said.

The Bloch Arena was where Pat was on that Saturday night, Dec. 6, 1941. As was the custom of the times there was a contest.

This was a jitterbug contest and the emcee selected Pat and asked if there was anyone in the audience "who would like to have this little girl as a partner." The volunteer dance partner was a 17-year-old sailor named Jack Evans, who, apparently also knew how to jitterbug because he and the ten year old won the contest and became the jitterbug champs, each sporting a trophy as proof. Then the two contestants went their separate ways neither knowing the names of the other.

The next day, Dec. 7, a day in which the world was knocked topsy-turvy for everyone, but most particularly for a 10-year-old girl that was right in the midst of everything.

"My father suggested that our family and our neighbor's family stay together. My mom, brother, our dog Tinker and I went to our neighbors. Their house had a second story which gave us the ability to look out the front window and see Hickam being bombed and machine-gunned and from the other bedroom window we could see the bombing of the Arizona and other ships stationed at Pearl Harbor. We watched in disbelief and shock as to what was happening in front of us. The planes were flying so low we could see the pilots."

Pat Thompson, like many others experiencing adversity, survived. She eventually married, moved to the San Diego area and raised a family. The jitterbug contest and her partner were, however, frequently on her mind.

Finally, after much correspondence, telephone calls and other communication, she located her dance partner, Jack Evans, and discovered that they lived within 15 miles of each other.

The two, carrying their jitterbug trophies, along with John Rutledge, a piano player at that dance long ago, finally met for a reunion after many decades.

Thompson, for many years worked for the San Diego Chargers in their public relations department. She is retired and widowed and lives in El Cajon.

By the way, at the Survivors 60th and 65th reunions Pat and Jack reprised their dance of 1941. I would guess that it was with as much verve and elan as then.


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