Although it has been 70 years since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, some area residents can still vividly recall the day they heard the news.
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked U.S. military bases in Hawaii. The next day, America declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy.
The attack on home soil forever changed the way Americans lived and looked at their place in the world.
For three residents of North Woods Commons, who ranged in age from 17 to 29 when the attack occurred, are able to recall with great detail the events that followed in their lives and the lives of those around them.
A simpler time
When Lois Willis first heard the news of the attacks, she was 17 and still a bit of a newlywed, having just married William in January 1941.
Now, at 88, Willis said she first thought it was not real.
“Two of my husband’s cousins came over to go rabbit hunting,” she recalled. “They told us about the attack. I didn’t know if they were pulling my leg.”
It didn’t come as much of a shock, she said.
“I was not really surprised, there were a lot of things going on,” she said.
Both of the cousins enlisted and her husband was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, where he would become a pilot.
“Life was simpler back then,” Willis said. “We didn’t know everything right away. We didn’t even have a telephone, we had to go next door.”
Willis said the country didn’t want to enter the war and stayed out of the conflict in Europe as long as possible.
“We were young,” she said. “We did what we had to do. It was all new to everybody.”
“It does something to you,” Willis said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Because of prior flying experience, her husband was put in the Air Force.
With her voice cracking with emotion, Willis said her husband died in May 1945 when the B-52 bomber he was flying crashed on Guam.
She was at her parents’ home when the telegram came.
“We all knew,” she said of the telegram’s grim message.
‘What is war?’
Margaret Reinke was visiting her sister who had contracted polio at an Indianapolis hospital.
“We stopped on the way home to Logansport,” she said. “Friends pulled up and asked if we heard the news that the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Reinke said her husband, Ervin, told her this means we’re at war.
“Don’t be surprised if I have to go,” said her husband of just over a year.
“I was surprised,” she said. “I had no idea we were that close to war. I asked what does war mean? That’s a bad thing?
“I think about where my sister was, driving in that old car,” she said. “We were too young to understand what war was.”
Now 89, Reinke said she remembered Logansport being absolutely quiet. Because of a blackout, there were no lights as well.
Reinke had two brothers who went off to war, one serving in Germany and the other in Japan.
“My dad was concerned,” she remembered. “Dad would walk out in the fields, when he came back to the house, there were tears in his eyes.”
Reinke said when her oldest brother left for the service, he left Logansport on a bus.
“Dad broke down,” she said. “He stood there and waved to that old bus. He took it hard.”
‘People were stunned’
Carl McClain was driving a bread truck when he heard news of the attack on the radio.
“You expect anything when things are unsettled,” he said. “We lived next to the railroad tracks, and I can remember the guys yelling as the trains went past.”
He said people struggled to understand why the Japanese would carry out such an attack on America.
“When it first happened, people were stunned,” he said.
McClain, now 99 years old, said he didn’t know what effect entering the war would have on America.
He remembered the gas rationing put in place and having to request additional coupons to visit his father at a Fort Wayne hospital.
Many people he knew were swept away to fight in the war.
Dietzen’s Bakery had 18 bakers when the war started, he recalled. All were sought out for military service. Eventually, he said, 14 enlisted. McClain remained in Kokomo.
For Gayle Maudlin, 92, she heard the news through her family’s radio. She ran out to the garden to tell her father.
“When he came in the house, he sat down, leaned his hands on his knees, bowed his head and said, ‘My God help us,’” Maudlin said.
• Ken de la Bastide is the Kokomo Tribune enterprise editor. He can be reached at 765-454-8580 or via e-mail at email@example.com