A Day and Time That Lives in Memory
As we travel down life’s highway, we encounter events that mark that place, where we recall what we were doing and what was going on around us at the time of their happening.
Many of us recall where we were and who we were with when we heard the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assignation in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969, 9-11, Katrina, Rita or Ike.
I recall an event that occurred 69 years ago. That time I was just a young’un. Those were really bad days for my mom and I. In fact, some of the hardest times we faced were during those times.
I remember that dreadful day, Dec. 7, 1941. It was mid-afternoon Sunday when word reached us in the little Cajun community of Abbeville, in Vermilion Parish, La., that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Most of us had no idea where that was. Few people had telephones and most news traveled by word of mouth. People gathered in little groups conversing in French about the crisis.
Most of those Cajun men had their own predictions of what the attack meant. Most believed that we were in for a bad war, and they feared our mainland would be attacked.
Cajun people tend to be somewhat emotional. Especially when excited. They visualized the Pearl Harbor bombing as far worse than it turned out to be but then no one knew what to expect. The Cajuns had a distinct fear of the “Japs.”
Grandma Avalia, a devout Catholic, immediately went to her ever-present rosary and prayed for hours on end. The eldest of her grandchildren, my cousin, Hubert, was stationed at Pearl Harbor. It would be quite some time before we received information that he had been severely injured.
After a long stay in the hospital, and with a metal plate in his head, he was released to come home on leave. While home, he helped his dad with the farm work. One early morning he was thrown from a tractor and killed when a disk cut him up, just three weeks after being released from the hospital. My aunt Eve, who died last year at age 105, had never gotten over the death of her firstborn. Hubert was a handsome guy, a very good young man, who survived an enemy attack at Pearl Harbor only to die in a freak accident at home at age 21.
I don’t recall if it was that evening, Sunday, Dec. 7 or the following nights that we all gathered around the radio at my aunt’s house to listen to President Roosevelt declare the horrors of war. The next day the school children were called into assembly and the principal and a teacher explained what Pearl Harbor meant. Every kid understood the situation and all of us were very patriotic.
The weeks and months following consisted of blackout drills in the home. We didn’t have electricity so that wasn’t a problem for us. We just put out the coal oil lamp. The drills went on regularly when the fire whistle blew, preparing us in case of an attack. Everyone believed we would be.
Most people all over the country began Victory gardens. I helped our neighbor plant a victory garden in the spring. Also we gathered all the scrap iron we could and brought it to a collection place with anything foil, like cigarette packs, gum wrappers, etc. We didn’t have enough money to eat on but those who could afford it were asked to buy savings bonds.
This was long before the days of dishonoring the American flag. Also, every young man in uniform was highly respected. Regardless of his service record, he was considered a hero.
After President Roosevelt spoke, every Cajun citizen, young and old, was not only willing but also anxious and very conscientious about doing their part.
Pearl Harbor and the Japanese attack ultimately led to the downfall of Japan; it was their albatross. But it also was a united America willing to do what ever it could that led to winning World War II.
Times have changed. I came up when the people were strong, their toughness coming from hard work and doing without. It was long before designer clothes, when boys wore feed sack shirts and girls word feed sack dresses and all our clothes were designed and manufactured by our moms. Sometimes a dozen people showed up at church wearing the same feed sack pattern. Today, we are a soft nation that could not survive under food rationing with no tires or gasoline, no sugar, little flour and all the things we take for granted. Powdered eggs and uncolored butter were treats. Can you imagine a child today wearing cardboard shoe soles that disintegrated in the dew? I kept replacing the cardboard in the only pair I had. From time to time we need to be reminded of the struggles and way of life that paved the way.
The sacrifices our servicemen and women and the American people made led to a better life for all who have come since. But for all the benefits, we have also paid a price, staring with the family structure, work ethic, disregard for the law and the feeling felt by so many that we are entitled to all those good things without having to earn them.
Our youngsters today are smarter, our education systems are better, but our morals and respect for others seem to continue to deteriorate. Most families have two working parents to meet the needs of today’s “good life” and to ensure that their youth enjoy the benefits shared by others.
Pearl Harbor showed the true strength of a nation already fighting the effects of the Depression, hunger, sickness and deprivation. That strength and dedication are responsible for the many blessing we enjoy today.
For just a moment this Dec. 7, pause to thank those who fought and struggled through all wars and today’s conflicts, not only to make us the most powerful nation on earth but also the richest and unfortunately most wasteful. I’m still somewhat amazed at how we made it on so little in those long ago days.