The Second World War rescued Jimmy Byrnes, just as war always rescues ambitious, restless men from civilian jobs they dislike. In Turner Catledge's later recollection, Byrnes "jumped at the chance" to leave the Supreme Court soon after the Sunday attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. The following Wednesday morning, Byrnes went to see Roosevelt at the president's request in his upstairs bedroom at the White House. The president was still in bed, studying incoming reports on the damage to the American fleet in the Pacific. War with Japan had already been declared by Congress before Byrnes' visit; declarations of war between the United States and the Axis powers of Germany and Italy would follow within a day. Byrnes was shocked at Roosevelt's appearance as he lay in bed, reviewing reports of American ships sunk and American lives lost at Pearl Harbor. Along with Roosevelt, Byrnes had expected the war with the fascist countries to begin in the North Atlantic, and to begin with more warning to American military forces. Byrnes later wrote that as Roosevelt told him "of developments since Sunday afternoon, he was more nervous than I had ever seen him."
Byrnes followed FDR as he wheeled himself into the bathroom and