Attack and War Changed America
It’s come on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Prior to the attack, life in the little Cajun community of Abbeville was slower and more country than any Norman Rockwell painting. Our home was a one-room grain storage shed that wasn’t wired for anything. Our light came from a coal oil lamp and our heat from a small coal oil stove. Mom had paid $70 for the little shack that was delivered on a mule drawn sled. After the war she sold it for $90. The old hand pump I used as a boy to draw water sits in my courtyard today as a reminder of those dirt road days a long time ago. The times and the circumstances molded me. I’m very thankful, because of that upbringing, for the good fortune that has come my way.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, our quiet, simple life was interrupted when word reached us that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Very few people had telephones; conversations were passed word of mouth. People gathered in little groups in neighborhoods. Men gathered on street corners in Abbeville, speculating on what the invasion meant. Cajuns are a hearty people whose ancestors had withstood hardships and deportation. Many ancestors had fought in the Civil War and World War I. The Cajuns feared that our mainland would be attacked.
Either Sunday or Monday evening, we went to Grandma’s to listen to President Roosevelt on her battery radio. He declared the horrors of war. Grandma prayed with her rosary. She was concerned about her eldest grandson, Hubert, who was stationed at Pearl Harbor. It was some time before we learned he had been injured during the bombing and a metal plate was put in his head. He remained in the hospital a long time and after his release was able to come home on leave. While helping his father disk some farmland, he was thrown from the tractor and the disk ran over him. He was only 20 years old when he died. His Mom, my Aunt Eve, who lived to be 105, always had tears in her eyes when she spoke of her first born. Our Bridge City friend, Cedric Stout, is a Pearl Harbor survivor. He also was only 20 years old. I wonder if he and my cousin Hubert, both in the Navy, ever crossed paths.
The weeks and months following the attack changed our lives. We went through the nightly blackouts. That wasn’t much of a problem for us. Communities and also individuals planted Victory Gardens. We gathered scrap iron and foil for the war effort. People who could afford it bought war bonds. Most everything was rationed. Families were issued coupon books. Stamps were used when purchasing rationed items, like sugar, gas and so forth. Cardboard soles replaced leather soles on shoes.
The war brought prosperity to some areas, such as the shipyards in Orange, Texas. Many families in our area moved away seeking wartime jobs, which put a burden on farms that saw a shortage of farmhands. Women and children took up the slack. Mom and I worked in the fields. The attack on Pearl Harbor, by the Japanese, became their albatross. The atomic and hydrogen bombs were introduced to the world.
Through the years, as I traveled down life’s highway, my roots, that little house Mom and I shared, always remained my anchor. It has always served as my point of reference. It has kept me from taking myself too seriously. The views I hold today were molded back then. Any good fortune I’ve had ties back to those days, which didn’t offer much hope but were filled with people who loved me. As I’ve traveled, I mentally hung on to those apron strings and the soil and times that produced me.