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December 7, 1941 recollections by Charles Hilty

The following article is provided by, a project of Bluffton Icon founder and former editor Fred Steiner.

By Charles Hilty

December 7, 2011 - Seventy years ago this afternoon my life changed.......just as it changed dramatically for every American.

Every Pearl Harbor Day I recall where I was and how I heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I can remember places and faces and even the things that were said.

And as I get older, I learn new things about the questions that this 7-year-old boy was asking his parents in the kitchen of that little white wooden cottage on Spring Street, one block behind the old Victorian grade school where I was getting my education. My education in the life of the larger world began that afternoon when our family first heard the news about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

We'd had a Sunday lunch after church there at the little home of my recently-married cousin, Margie Neeper, and her young husband, Vyrl.

My cousin Kenny Powell was there, as was his mother, my Aunt Minnie-my mom's older sister, who was Margie's mother.

I don't think that Uncle Lancie, Aunt Minnie's husband, was there – he rarely was.

Perhaps Aunt Lonie and Uncle Waldo were there. They only lived two blocks away and Uncle Waldo would never pass up a meal at someone else's expense.

It was mid-afternoon.......about 2:45 p.m........a gray, chilly, perhaps slightly rainy December day. The few lights in the house were on.

Because it was 1941, the men were talking in the living room......Dad, cousin Vyrl, cousin Kenny, Uncle Waldo and myself. (Kenny was 13, I was 7, so perhaps we didn't qualify as men.)

The women, naturally, were in the kitchen cleaning up and washing dishes, and listening to the radio. Their quiet chatter suddenly grew noisier and my mother burst into the living, almost shouting in panic "Charlie, you've got to come to hear this!! What does it mean??"

Because my mom was normally a quiet person-and because I'd never before heard her call my father by his first name, I sensed that something important was happening.

We "men" (and boys) rushed into the little kitchen, where the tiny radio was repeating the story that Japanese planes had made a surprise attack and had sunk American battleships at a place called Pearl Harbor – a new name to me – in the Hawaiian Islands, which I had heard about. My mom, my aunts and my cousin looked stricken.

My mom was biting her lip. Aunt Minnie was wringing the dish towel with great agitation.

I remember my father's quick angry outburst about the "Japs," followed at once by a return to the calmness that I knew was his natural way. Uncle Waldo was puzzled. Vyrl, cousin Margie's husband, was closely attentive and said, "This means war!!"

I'd already seen enough Army and Navy toys during those early years of a war that was being fought in Europe without the United States that I had some glamorous ideas about soldiers and sailors and bravery and American superiority.

"Oh, Vyrl, will you have to go????" cried my cousin Margie, to her husband, who, as I soon came to understand, already was a lieutenant in the active Army Reserve. "We'd better get ready," he replied. (He soon was called to active duty and stayed there for nearly four years.)

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