Residents recall ‘date of infamy’
Corky Harmon was selling newspapers. Pearl Burgess Stanfield was at a service station. Virginia Cox had a brother there at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Tucker Clayton was at home. Dot Eshbach was in nursing school. Grady Johnson was in Center. Moe Litton was enjoying an outing with a friend in Gladewater.
After the attack, Harmon remembers work picking up at shipyards such as Levingston and Consolidated. Later U.S. Steel arrived, as did many others to bring the Orange area out of the economic slump caused by the Great Depression.
Harmon, 81, of Orange, was on Green Avenue selling “extras” after the Japanese assault that Sunday.
“I ran out of papers that day,” he says. “And then I heard [Roosevelt] speak about the war. I was just a kid then. I didn’t understand what war was.”
Stanfield, 89, of West Orange, was riding with her husband on Border Street. “We had stopped at a station to get gas and a radio came on and was just blaring wide-open: ‘Pearl Harbor has been bombed.’
“We heard the bells ringing at MacDonald Church and everybody gathered there for prayer … it calmed us down quite a bit.”
A week later her brothers Earl and Marvin Myers joined the service.
Her other brother Carlton worked at Reed Roller Bit, a Houston company that supplied the armed forces with equipment and parts.
“Carlton tried to join up too, but they wouldn’t take him,” Stanfield says. “They said he was too valuable in his job.”
Cox, 81, of Bridge City, didn’t know if her brother Sidney Dry was dead or alive. He was stationed on the USS California, which sank like the Arizona and others.
“We didn’t get news then like we do now,” she says. “Finally after about three weeks we got a postcard saying he was OK. He had to swim ashore and lived on the beach for many nights, because there weren’t any quarters to stay in.” (The California was later salvaged and reconstructed and spent the rest of the war in the Pacific Theater).
Dry took part in 11 battles. He served on the USS Indianapolis shortly before it was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Thankfully for Dry, he had been transferred stateside by then.
“We didn’t know he’d been taken off the ship,” Cox says. “So again we wondered if something had happened to him. He barely missed it, and a lot of his friends were killed.”
Clayton, 88, of Bridge City, turned on his home radio that morning. He heard about the attack but doesn’t remember listening later to FDR’s historic speech to the nation. He went into the Army in 1942 and helped build airstrips. He served in Sidney, Australia, and the Philippines.
“One day they told us we’d be in the invasion of Tokyo, but I came home before that,” he says. “A lot of the men I served with were in the first wave.” (Invasion efforts ended after atomic explosions led to Japan’s surrender).
Dot Eshbach, 87, of Bridge City, was a nurse at St. Mary Hospital’s nursing school in Port Arthur.
“I remember after the day we got word of [the attack], a week later my entire class had signed up as part of a volunteer nursing group,” she says. “We just couldn’t believe it. No one could, could they? We had food stamps for everything, meat, gas you name it. I wish I’d saved some of those for keepsakes. They’d probably be worth something now, but you don’t think about that stuff at the time.”
Eshbach eventually got married and says she fought “The Battle of Galveston” for the rest of the war.
Johnson, 85, of Pinehurst, was growing up in Center. “I was stunned when I heard about it,” he says. “Out there in the country there weren’t a lot of people. I went to a neighbor’s house to hear it on the radio, and that was a rarity. A lot of people didn’t even have radios.”
Johnson eventually found work at shipyards such as Consolidated. He worked on many ships later commissioned by the Navy before he was drafted as an Army artilleryman. He served in South Pacific stations like New Caledonia and the Philippines.
Litton, 83, of Bridge City, was in Gladewater. “My best friend was also my next door neighbor,” Litton says. “And he and I would go to the city dump with a 22 rifle and we’d sit and shoot at rats. Obviously, it didn’t take us long to run out of ammunition. We came back to his mother’s house and she told us about it. I couldn’t fathom what a Pearl Harbor was, much less a bomb.”
Litton’s brother later joined the service and was killed. Litton joined the Navy at 16 and was a gunner’s mate on ships like the USS Tryon and USS Brush. He served until 1947 before coming home to play football at Stephen F. Austin.