Memories of Pearl Harbor

From a Football Game to an Unexpected Reunion in the Middle of Chaos.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor by Christopher Chan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy - the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The attack on Pearl Harbor was one full of tragedy and its impact was felt throughout the world, especially at home. For many, they learned the news of the attack while going about their everyday activities and then being overwhelmed with concern for their loved ones who are serving in the armed forces.

Peggy was 20 years old when she learned the news of the attacks from the announcer at a football game. The following questions and answers are from a conversation conducted by a Social Work intern with Peggy along with her daughter, Mary who’s a Licensed Clinical Social Worker is. Capturing Peggy’s recollection about the events of Pearl Harbor and the aftermath is an opportunity to encapsulate her experience as someone who experienced the effects of the war on the home front. At Bay Ridge Heroes, we want to give veterans and civilians alike the space to share their experience surrounding pivotal events in history for other members to understand what happened from another point of view or for new generations far removed from the event to gain a new perspective.

1. How old were you before the attack on Pearl Harbor?

I was 20 years old; I was at a football game with my family when they made the announcement on the loudspeakers.

2. Do you recall the mood of the country at the time before the attack, since the world was at war?

We were anxious because of what was going on in Europe at the time. The Europeans were fighting each other.

3. How did you find out about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

I was at a football game, we were watching the New York Giants versus the Brooklyn Dodgers, then the commentator made an announcement over the loudspeakers. I just wanted to get home as soon as possible to find out more over the radio because I had a brother and sister that were serving.

4. What were you doing when you found out?

I was at a football game with my family. I was at the old Polo Grounds watching the New York Giants play the Brooklyn Dodgers. Many people have forgotten that there was a football team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, just like the baseball one.

5. Did you notice any change regarding how people felt about going to war?

Some people were for it because of what happened in Pearl Harbor, but some were anxious about their family who were going to be sent to fight.

6. What did it feel like when the US entered the war?

We were constantly anxious about getting news from Europe because on the news we would hear about all the casualties. Until one day, one of our neighbors got news that their son was killed. That’s when I really felt it, I knew him, I used to play with him and my brother growing up. Now the war felt closer to home because we knew someone who had died over there. I remember getting news that my brother George met up with our sister Annie in Europe, this was after they had been over there for some time. It was a relief to know that they got to see each other and that they were okay during all that chaos.

7. How did it feel when the US dropped the 2 bombs over Japan in retaliation to the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to end the war in the Pacific?

There were mixed feelings, some people were for it and some were against it. It was one of those things that they did to try to end the war.

8. What was lifelike after the war?

We were glad that the war was over. We were especially glad to have my brother, George, who was in the Army and my sister, Annie who was a nurse over there (European Theater) back. After the war, my sister continued to be a nurse but, in her fifties, she decided to go back to school and became a Social Worker, just like my daughter.

9. Over the years, how have people's sentiments of the attack on Pearl Harbor changed?

I think people have forgotten for the most part and it’s like any another day. It’s an important day because of all the tragedy and lives that were lost.

10. Is there anything that people today should be mindful of regarding the attacks of Pearl Harbor?

We were all nervous and anxious about getting news. I remember that we had to use these rationing coins in order to get food and other goods because everything was being prioritized for the people over there. I remember if you had a red coin, you were able to get meat from the store and there were other coins with different colors that you were able to exchange for other goods.

Peggy’s experience from a civilian point of view is one that gives us insight on the difficulties experienced by families on the home front and a glimpse on the worrying of news from the battlefield. It’s important to capture these experiences in order to maintain the significance of these impactful dates because over time they lose their meaning by newer generations and are relegated to another date on the calendar. Pearl Harbor is an example of an event that is seared into your memory, you’re able to recall where you were, and what you were doing. In recent history, another event with such long lasting memory are the attacks on September 11, 2001. These attacks led to new battlefields being created and as a result, new families to worry about news from the battlefield. By giving people the space to share their experience, we are attempting to bridge the divide between the military and civilians because it’s just not them out there in the battlefield.

Victor Interiano is a United States Marine Corps veteran and is currently a graduate student at Boston University School of Social Work. Victor has previous experience with working with diverse populations, mental illnesses, chronic illnesses, and case management. Victor currently works in Oncology Social Work and has interned at Bay Ridge Center as Social Work Intern.

Bay Ridge Center launched Bay Ridge Heroes in November 2020 to honor Veterans Day and to empower our veteran community with essential resources and services. Heroes welcomes new members. See the flyer here for more information.

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