07 December 2016

A grandmother’s reflections on Pearl Harbor

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, I wanted to share an old letter I found among my grandmother’s papers this past summer, recalling her own memories of that fateful day. –JHW

December 07, 1994

Today is the 53rd Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the day that has lived in infamy as FDR referred to it on his address to Congress asking for a declaration of War (there was only one dissention, a Miss Rankin, a Senator, I believe from one of the Southern States.) I was sitting in my home in Sweetwater, Texas. It was a Sunday morning, a sort of day off for Howard with only a few chores at the Saddle Horse. When I heard that practically the entire Pacific fleet had been wiped out it was a time of anguish, and a puzzle too—weren’t Japan’s representatives at that same hour negotiating in Washington?

When FDR convened the Congress the next day—or so—I wanted to hear his address on the battery radio. I called Howard in—and along with him a Mr. Chandler who was working there clearing some land and who when I called asked if he could come in and listen to the radio with us. He was a veteran of WWI—had been with the AEF in Europe. So of course, we invited him in. That familiar voice—Magnificent!—of FDR came over the air ways and we—as a country—were plunged immediately into a time of horror and deprivation which we had never known before. Our way of life changed completely. We were never again to know the sweet soft easy existence we were accustomed to—the death march of Bataan, Leyte Gulf, Tarawa, Iwo Jima—all this lay ahead of us in one screaming thrust of War. It led to so much sorrow, so much loss. We would never be the same as we moved on to Hitler’s Germany and all their atrocities—the Holocaust, the Battle of Dunkirk—and all the time an innocence was lost, never to be regained for two American citizens who were forced to become accustomed to world horror as time marched on.

Jo Witt

This letter was written in 1994, a little over a year after my grandfather Howard had passed away. She wrote many letters in those days, wishing she could still speak to him. Jo lived on until the summer of 2001, and I always felt it was merciful that she did died without having to witness the tragedy that befell us that September. 

She appears to have added more text at some later time, discussing the military service of her three brothers, John, Bid, and Sidney. Portions are in a shakier script and accompanied by a note in the margin reading “in this section I was writing in the dark.” I have copied those below.

I do not want to diminish the efforts of those family members who were involved first hand with the Ultimate devotion. My brother John was a Marine. Bid tried to enlist Navy requesting submarine duty. Sidney regretted being still in high school, wanted to drop out of school and enlist, He said “darn it, the war’ll be over before I get in there.”—

Bid did become part of the Service, military that is, and as part of the U.S. Navy was active in the Pacific Zone, aboard the U.S.S. Lowry, a destroyer—active in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, among others. Sidney upon graduating from High School enlisted in the U.S. Air Force + served for 4 years, he was on active duty in England; this was during the “Korean Conflict.”

I don’t know if my grandmother ever intended this letter to be published, but I know that she understood the importance of learning from history. With that in mind, I have reprinted her words here exactly as she wrote them. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to remember the sacrifices that prior generations made for us.