1.6 million Californians were alive today when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor 80 years ago, pushing America into World War II.
Probably half of them were old enough to remember that terrible day – “December. October 7, 1941 is a date that will live in shame, ”as President Franklin D. Roosevelt eloquently called it.
I was 4 years old when I was playing with my little brother at the foot of the slope behind our house on the top of the hill in Santa Barbara when my mother threw herself down very hard. Kneeling at face level, she lectured: “Remember this day. It’s December 7th. December 7. This is a historic event. America was attacked. … We are at war. ” And she repeated everything.
This is the only reason I remember the day when Pearl Harbor was secretly bombed.
I remember another thing about the war.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on the evening of February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced north of Santa Barbara and shelled the Ellwood oil field, where my father worked with the crew. No harm done. But dad was thrilled.
“They gave us a pitchfork and told us to stand on the beach and protect it,” I remember how he clung to his worried mom when he finally returned home after sunrise. “What was I to do with the pitchfork?”
This scared almost everyone on the coast. The enemy could be on our beaches any day. Every time an enemy aircraft raid was suspected, local “overseers” cut off the electricity, which happened frequently.
The warden scolded my mother for feeding my newborn sister with a flashlight. She angrily invited him to feed the baby.
We soon moved to Ojai and my parents bought a small orange ranch for $ 9,000. That’s how much good real estate costs when California had just 7.5 million inhabitants.
Military department took over the posh Ojai Valley Country Club to train army infantry battalions. The rifle troops often walked past our ranch to the mountain range. My brother and I passed out freshly picked oranges. Some of the soldiers happily took them. Others acted as if they had never seen an orange.
My generation is the last to have personal memories of the war that made America a superpower and California a nation state.
“The Second World War made California internationalized. We have become the Pacific Ocean, ”the late Californian historian Kevin Starr once told me.
For the vast majority of us, the war years were the most important in our lives.
Almost everyone knew a family that had lost a father, brother or son in battle. A first-class friend’s dad died. The teacher’s husband was injured.
The son of close friends of my parents returned home as a heroic Marine lieutenant, learned that his wife was having an affair, and committed suicide. His two children – my age – were raised by their grandparents.
Governor Gavin Newsom, celebrating the recent Veterans Day, spoke about one of his grandfathers who was taken prisoner in the Philippines, survived captivity, returned home after the war, and committed suicide.
“His story … is a story that can be told over and over again,” the governor told reporters.
America lost 407,316 people killed in the war, including 17,022 Californians.
Do you think there is a feed line crimp today? During World War II, only 139 new cars were built. Instead, car factories built bombers, tanks and jeeps. Almost everything a civilian might want to buy has been rationed: gasoline, tires, oil, sugar, bacon, nylon. … Manufacturers have stopped producing radios, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and washing machines.
One of the attributes that the war years will always remember is the national unity they inspired. All rallied and sacrificed, striving for a common goal: the victory over Hitler and Tojo. “Polarization” was not in the vocabulary.
But this unity produced something embarrassing: the swift detention and confinement of 110,000 Japanese Americans on the coast, most of whom were US citizens, in isolated internment camps. The US government feared they might be enemy collaborators.
California Atti. General Earl Warren, running for governor, led to illegal imprisonments. Years later, he apologized, writing in his memoirs that “it was not in line with our American concept of freedom and civil rights.”
US Congressman Doris Matsui (Democrat from Sacramento) was born in an internment camp in Arizona – Poston, near Parker.
“My parents felt hurt and disappointed, but they didn’t lose the feeling that they were here, and this was a great country,” Matsui told me. “Many Japanese Americans thought so. I didn’t feel bitterness. “
Coincidentally, a close lifelong friend of mine lived in Parker when Matsui was born, because his father worked at Camp Poston as an inspector of a camouflage net made by internees. His job was to make sure the camouflage did not contain signals for enemy aircraft.
In 1945, this friend was Ron Johnson, the former chairman of the Fresno State Department of Performing Arts. – moved with his family to Hemet. And his deepest memory of the Second World War was the death of Roosevelt.
“I was walking home from school and it was so quiet that you could hear a pin falling,” he said. “But everyone had a radio. If I saw someone, they would cry. It was very sad. “
Another friend, retired teacher Jean Ryan from Morro Bay, recalls walking with her mother in Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz and hearing sirens.
“I thought it was a fire,” she says. “Mom said that this is the end of the war. I told her: “Goody. Dad can go home. ” He was in the merchant marine transporting supplies for the troops.
If she were here today, my mom would say, “Appreciate what you have and stop hurting your stomach.”