Remembering Pearl Harbor

People remember where they were when they heard the news of 9-11. Those who are older also remember their circumstances when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago. Folks from the World War II generation recollect hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor 72 years ago on December 7, 1941.

Today’s technology brings news to us instantaneously; decades ago news came more slowly. People received information about the tragedy at the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in bits and pieces over the course of several days. It was Dec. 8, 1941 before the first detailed news was broadcasted on the radio and published in newspapers throughout the country.

“WAR DECLARED by U.S. AGAINST JAPANESE; BRITAIN JOINS WAR White House Announces 3000 Casualties at Honolulu” was the headline in the DUNKIRK EVENING OBSERVER 72 years ago today. The top story gave a full account of what was happening at the national level.

It read,”Congress today proclaimed existence of a state of war between the United States and the Japanese empire 33 minutes after the dramatic moment when President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt stood before a joint session to pledge that we will triumph ‘so help us God.’ Democracy was proving its right to a place in the sun with a split-second shiftover from peace to all-out war.”

Britain and France declared war on Germany a short time after it had invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. By 1940, more countries along with much of France had fallen to the Germans. Many Americans wanted to avoid getting involved with the trouble in Europe, but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed this isolationist view. Franklin Roosevelt’s full war message to Congress was also published in the DUNKIRK EVENING OBSERVER.

He said, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 A date which will live in infamy the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan. … “It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation. Always we will remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

He concluded, “With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.” Franklin D. Roosevelt. The White House, December 8, 1941.

A haunting commentary of the unknown, several photos of local men were published in the DUNKIRK EVENING OBSERVER on December 8, 1941. Their station at or near Pearl Harbor was noted along with their enlistment dates. Several notices stated, “The youth was heard from last week by his parents,” or something similar, but giving the impression that their current whereabouts and condition were unknown.

One man whose fate was unknown was Walter Krzakala of Hoyt Street. He was stationed on the U.S.S. West Virginia, which at the time was known to have been damaged in the attack. According to Naval History and Heritage Command, the West Virginia was struck by up to nine enemy torpedoes, tearing open her midships and forward hull and wrecking her rudder. She initially listed severely to port, but quick counter-flooding by her crew allowed her to settle to the bottom on a relatively even keel. Her Commanding Officer was one of over a hundred of her officers and men killed in the raid. The ship sunk, largely full of water and was further damaged by fire and bombs. Fortunately, Walter Krzakala survived and was later part of the wedding party for his friend, Walter Lazarczyk.

So what was the reaction to the Pearl Harbor news? Old-timers remember hearing the news over the radio or observing their parents’ reactions. Lorraine Chamberlain, my 88-year-old mother-in-law, recalls the expression on her mother’s face turning downcast with the comment, “Here we go again.” Coming from England and WW I, she said with dismay that she had been through this before and that war changes people.

Information slowly came and was pieced together. As time passed, almost everyone helped with the war effort. Even children helped by selling war bonds, knitting for soldiers, and living through rationing.

Interestingly, Chamberlain wrote a letter to a serviceman upon the request of her high school teacher as part of a letter writing campaign. She later met and married this man.

The DUNKIRK EVENING OBSERVER from 72 years ago also reminded readers that there were just 14 shopping days left to Christmas. If shopping became “fatiguing,” they could stop in for a “refreshing drink or sandwich” at CANDYLAND on Central Avenue, a well-known eatery in Dunkirk. Another notice named “Service Santa Claus” reminded the readers to shop early to send gifts to soldiers and sailors, especially those in foreign service. Don’t trust it to chance and get the gift on its way.

It read “Christmas isn’t very merry on station in the services unless there are packages from home. Ship that package to the soldier or sailor now!”

Make it a good week and remember those in past and current service.

Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments on this article may be directed to