Pearl Harbor defined a generation

By From page A1 | December 9, 2010

It has been 69 years, about two generations, since Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

Recollections of Dec. 7, 1941 vary widely by age and by geographic location.

In Hayward, Ruthy Lacy, 84, of Placerville was 15 years old. The day was a nightmare for her, since her older brother, Robert, was stationed on the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. With very little substantial information, all she could do was to cry and pray for his safety while she waited on tenterhooks for further news. To alleviate her misery, her father sent her to the movies that night with her fiance, hoping that she could get her mind off her brother. Lacy does not remember the movie she saw, but she recalls walking home in pitch darkness. A black-out was in effect.

For Lacy, that day will never be forgotten. Robert was one of some calculated 2,402 casualties that day, and his body was never recovered. The USS Arizona was one of four ships that were submerged that day. She is forever haunted by the thoughts of the men, including her brother, who were trapped below decks. Despite the misery, the tragedy influenced her life as she wrote a poem called “Requiem for the USS Arizona” and was able to visit the USS Arizona when she was 53 years old, an experience that was one of the highlights of her life. The USS Arizona is now a War Memorial, a testament to history, courage and the brutality of war.

Estrella Pfaff, 73, of Placerville, was just 4 years old, but since she was living in South San Francisco, she remembers the day vividly. At the time, there were some brush fires in the hills, where the words “South San Francisco -The Industrial City” were written with stones.

“It was scary,” Pfaff said. “We thought that the hill was going to attract the Japanese to bomb us. It was a grass fire, but it was a real concern. We were told to keep our draperies closed.”

Later, she remembers air raid warnings, and air raid wardens who wore special hats that read “Keeping us Safe.”

In Madera, Stan Toner, 80, now of Cameron Park, was just 11 years old.

“At that age, you don’t know what you’re in for,” said Toner. But the next day when he went to school, an assembly was held where they heard President Roosevelt’s address to the nation.

In the Midwest

In Minneapolis, Minn., Daniel Carey, 80, of Placerville and San Diego, was also just 11 years old. He too, was not too impressed by the news, since he was so young. He remembers hearing it on the radio, and his father just said: “Well, I guess we’re at war now.”

“I didn’t think much about it either way,” Carey said. But the next day at Robert Fulton School, everyone was called into the gymnasium. “We all heard Roosevelt speak on the radio. He stated that we were at war. Three days later, you know, Germany declared war on the United States.”

A civil engineer, then 50, the late Clyde C. Carey considered joining the Army Corps of Engineers, but then decided to remain stateside, where he worked on big dam projects, including the Nimbus Dam and Hoover Dam.

That afternoon, Daniel, his late brother Bill and his parents went to the Edina Theater in Minneapolis. His older sisters, the late Charlotte
Carey and Marjorie Carey (who served as an Army nurse during WW II) were away at college.

Seeing “Citizen Kane” with Orson Wells impressed Daniel a bit more than the imminent war. It was very moving, he said. He found it ironic that Orson Welles — the perpetrator of the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938 starred in that film, which he saw the very day that Pearl Harbor was attacked. “The War of the Worlds” segment on the radio terrified the nation. Many people thought it was true, but it turned out to be a drama.

In 1948, Daniel joined the newly formed United States Air Force, but he did not serve in Korea. He remains a patriot and a staunch defender of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of truth.

In Nebraska, John Van Sant, 83, of Placerville, was 14 years old when he heard about Pearl Harbor on the radio. From that moment, he was determined to join the military to hlep protect his country. After graduating from high school in 1945, he joined the United States Marine Corps. Since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945, he did not see actual combat in World War II, but went on to serve in the Phillipines.

Joseph Sheeks, 92, of El Dorado, was actually stationed in Pearl Harbor on the USS Monaghan, and he experienced the terror and confusion of the attack first hand, an experience detailed in his memoir, “The Shady Lady — My Experiences on a Fighting Ship.” He feels that he is “one of the luckiest men alive” to have survived the events of Pearl Harbor, where his ship was less than a mile from full scale terror. To this day, Sheeks keeps the memory of that fateful day alive, sharing his stories with clubs and family members, who are riveted by his vivid details, and inspired by his dedication to the ideals of peace and freedom.

On Pearl Harbor Day, the nation is reminded that there are some things that should never be forgotten. And the words “thank you” should resonate throughout the generations as men and women hope for world peace, but do their duty to ensure domestic tranquility.

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Susana Carey Wey

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