Letter: Remember Pearl Harbor

By Peter I. Berman

To the Editor

While “Pearl Harbor” is fading from public memory to an older generation it remains forever fresh. America’s response was awesome. Not much news was available by radio on Sunday. But the next day, Monday, hundreds of thousands in New York City enlisted and similarly across the country. American soldiers were heading to the Pacific. Cars disappeared from streets under gas rationing. Mothers cornered young men asking why they weren’t in uniform. Victory gardens sprung up everywhere even in parks. Kids in school spent their afternoons with wagons collecting newspapers, metal, rubber and so on for the war effort. Curtains were drawn at night. Citizens went out at night on “home patrol.”

Food rationing brought the War’s reality home, as did the appearance of “Gold Star Mothers.” One can never forget long lines with as many as 40 or 50 shoppers becoming instantly quiet and moving sideways in unison to let a Gold Star Mother walk to the head of the line. No one complained when butchers broke the rules and gave choice cuts to the Gold Star mothers. Soon came another reality – the dreaded Western Union messenger carrying news of “lost in action.” And the cries in the night. And wounded soldiers home for convalescing before returning.

Like most families we listened at night to the radio for news and poured over the newspapers for information on the Pacific and European theaters. Returning GI’s on leave were given special attention. Street crime seemed to virtually disappear – surprising since the police were nowhere in sight. Together with most families, we had no current knowledge of where our enlisted family members were fighting.

Jobs grew magically as America’s long underutilized industry was called upon to support an unprecedented war mobilization. The great naval shipyards in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Newport News and San Francisco turned out a phenomenal tonnage of warships, while the Kaiser Shipyards on the coast turned out Liberty ships at the rate of one a week. And our huge Midwest auto and truck factories turned out 100,000 airplanes by war’s end.

Words can’t describe the utter jubilation of V-E and V-J days. I can still remember vividly just about everywhere signs “Jobs for GI’s,” “Jobs – only GI’s need apply” and huge new housing tracks for returning GI’s at $29 a month – no down payment. And the enthusiasm of GI’s completing high school and the GI Bill providing college.

The full measure of the carnage and sacrifice of the war only became visible after demobilization and when the horrors of the Pacific and European theaters became better known. Tens of thousands of shipyard workers working with asbestos on naval and commercial ships died prematurely. Millions of returning GI’s, most still in their teens when the war began, came home wounded and overwhelmed our health care facilities. Many who experienced horrific combat carried their scares forever.

It never occurred to any us civilians that this would be the last war where returning veterans would be treated with overwhelming respect and privilege of a greatly appreciative public. Local merchants often aggressively competed to hire returning GI’s. Housing was scarce but down payments and rental deposits were oft ignored. Serving the country was honored, more so being in combat. Vets often got first choice when new cars became available.

Like many of my generation, it was important to visit the floating memorial over the Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Reading the names of the thousands entombed below, including dozens of brothers, brings home the awesome sacrifice unleashed by Pearl Harbor. America responded as one to the cry “Remember Pearl Harbor” and emerged a global superpower with an awesome military. And, to our everlasting credit, rather than utterly destroy our adversaries, we transformed their societies after the war into ones that share our core values.

That is the enduring legacy of “Remember Pearl Harbor.” We responded with the best of America.

Peter I Berman


3 responses to “Letter: Remember Pearl Harbor”

  1. Oldtmer

    There are not a lot of Pearl Harbor survivors still around, but there is a lady in Norwalk, who hasn’t given me permission to use her name, who was a small child when it happened. Her mother made her stay inside an icebox until it was over and she was not injured. After the attack, she and the rest of her family, except her father, who was a young officer in the Navy, were shipped back to the mainland.

  2. ryan

    The Master Chief still stands opposite City Hall on Saturday afternoons usually around noon weather permitting, holding his humble sign that says honk if you support our troops. Long gone are the women who until 2008 stood across the street from him opposing our presence in Iraq. The Master Chief has no political motive, he asks for no recognition or recompense. I blow my horn, wave and thank God for our military every time I see him. We all owe a debt that cannot ever be repaid.

  3. Oldtmer

    Well said, we owe a debt we cannot repay. At least we need to take proper care of the veterans. Not just medical care, but a shot at finishing a good education, if they want. This country benefitted enormously from the service of the vets who came home after WW II, went to school on the GI Bill, and then put their degrees to productive use in all kinds of professions.

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