Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children

By William M. Tuttle Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1 Pearl Harbor: Fears and Nightmares

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 1941, began as it usually did for eleven-yearold Jackie Smith: with church. Standing in front of her family's quarters at the Pearl Harbor naval base, she was waiting to walk with her family to the base chapel. Jackie noticed airplanes flying overhead, but airplanes were nothing unusual around the Army and Navy installations on Oahu. She thought she was witnessing a simulated dogfight between American airplanes, but then "all of a sudden flames were shooting up," and it "looked like the whole island was on fire." Her father ran inside to telephone the base, but the operator told him to get off the line because Pearl Harbor was under attack. By then, airplanes were flying at treetop level; Jackie could see the rising sun insignia on the wings. The family dashed inside and hid under tables. Jackie ran upstairs with her father to grab the mattresses off the beds to provide other hiding places from the bombs and machine-gun bullets. Through the second-story window, she saw not only the airplanes but even the faces of the pilots. "I could almost touch them, it seemed."1

Pearl Harbor, air raid drills, blackouts, and nightmares mark the memories of America's homefront children. Numerous men and women who were children then remember precisely where they were and what they were doing on December 7, when they heard the news. For them, time stopped at that moment in what psychologists called flashbulb memory, the freeze-framing of an exceptionally emotional event down to the most incidental detail. The indelible memory--for these homefront children as for their elders--was of that precise moment when radio reports of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor stunned the nation into silence.

Stephanie Carlson, ten years old, also was close to the action that day. Living on Oahu, she remembered Pearl Harbor in a poem written soon after the attack:

Dec. 7 started like any other quiet Sunday in Hawaii....
Then things began to happen.

-3-

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