Events that shaped us 

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Aledo, IL 61231

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Andalusia, IL 61232

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Viola, IL 61486

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Walcott, IA 52773

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Memories of Pearl Harbor day never fade

By Kate Woodburn, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Click here for larger view.
The USS Pennsylvania, with her fire-damaged bow, sits behind the USS Cassin and USS Downes in the view of Drydock 1 after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Honolulu, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. Drydock 1 was flooded in an effort to quell the fires started by the attack and the Cassin rolled off her blocks and came to rest on the Downes. Our of sight to the left is the USS Shaw, and the USS Arizona is the ship burning in the background. Eighteen U.S. ships wend down that day, and about 3,700 people were killed or wounded. The United States declared war on Japan the next day, after a speech to a joint session of congress in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Dec. 7 'a date which will live in infamy.'
If Japan had never attacked Pearl Harbor, few people would remember more than 57 years later exactly what they were doing on Dec. 7, 1941. However, that date has become one of the few turning points in American history that almost everyone who was alive to experience it remembers vividly.

-- In December 1941 Bob Strohman of East Moline was in the Army, stationed at Moffit Field, but had left the base for the weekend. ``My girlfriend lived in Oakland, Calif. I went up there Saturday afternoon, and did some shopping. Sunday we spent the whole day talking and playing cards,'' said Mr. Strohman. They never once turned on the radio, he added.

The only unusual thing about the weekend for Mr. Strohman, then 24, was that he was without his wallet. Before leaving on Saturday, Mr. Strohman had taken his wallet out of his pocket to take a shower. After he had left Moffit Field he realized he had forgotten to pick it back up. He said he was able to borrow money from some friends for the weekend and didn't worry about his wallet until Sunday when he returned to Moffit Field.

``I got down there and here was this great big line of cars,'' he said. He usually would have been able to explain his situation to the people at the gate and he would have been let on the field without his I.D. card. Dec. 7 was different.

``When I got to the gate they told me what had happened,'' said Mr. Strohman. The man at the gate asked for his I.D. card. When he explained why he didn't have it he had to pull over to the side of the road and wait while someone went to check his story.

The guard came back and said, ``Yeah, I found the wallet, he's one of ours,'' said Mr. Strohman.

Mr. Strohman said he wasn't too scared when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor, ``I mean, after all, we were in California.'' However, some of the men on the base weren't nearly as calm. He remembers that some were saying things like, ``My goodness, what if the Japanese have got a submarine off the base.''

This fear and suspicion led to heightened security not only at the entrance, but almost everywhere else on the base. That night Mr. Strohman said he was assigned to guard some experimental buildings. ``I walked around those buildings all night with a loaded .45. Good thing I didn't see anyone, I would have shot them,'' he said.

Mr. Strohman served in the Army for about four years after the attack, but because of a string of coincidences he never saw combat. He said the first time he was on a shipping list he had to get a physical and was told he couldn't go because he had varicose veins. To his doctor's surprise, he asked to have them fixed, but by the time he was ready the ship had already left.

Everyone on his second shipping list was required to get yellow fever vaccinations before they left. But, there was something wrong with the shot they were given, and ``we all got hepatitis, filled up a whole ward at the hospital,'' Mr. Strohman said.

Later he said he was asked, ``How would you like to go to a B-24 outfit?'' Mr. Strohman said at that time the B-24s flew out of North Africa, so he thought he'd go overseas. Instead, he sent to a B-24 training base in Albuquerque, N.M.

``Once I got to Albuqueruqe I liked it so much that I never got on any more shipping lists,'' said Mr. Strohman.

-- Charles Peterson of Rock Island wasn't in the military when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor from a radio at home. His first thoughts were of his own future and duty. ``When your country goes to war, you've got to go,'' said Mr. Peterson, who joined the Navy in 1943.

-- Lois Winterbottom, of Rock Island, remembers Pearl Harbor, even though she was too young at the time to really understand exactly what was happening.

Mrs. Winterbottom was about 13 years old at the time. She heard the news at home on the radio just before church, but didn't hear much more about it until Monday.

``The next day we did a lot of talking about it at school,'' she said. At the time, Mrs. Winterbottom said she really didn't understand what the attack meant. ``I hardly knew what was going on, but it was scary,'' she said. ``I was really frightened, and I couldn't understand why.''

-- Bill Wilson was 14 years old at the time and remembers well how he heard the news.

``I was at church, the minister was giving the sermon. His wife came in and whispered to him. He told us the news, said a blessing and let us go,'' Mr. Wilson said. ``It just stunned us.... My father said, `Let's go' and we got in the car and went home.'' After they got home, Mr. Wilson said, his father tried to call families that he knew had people serving in the military.

-- Dorothy Covemaker, of Moline, had made Sunday dinner for her family. ``My brother-in-law was here from Maryland visiting. We were having a family dinner,'' until the meal was interrupted with news of the attack. Her brother-in-law ``was in the service. He got a call that he had to report back and he left.''

Mrs. Covemaker said he left right away, but was a little shocked that he had been called so soon.

-- ``I remember I was in Kodiak, Alaska. That was a Sunday morning, I was cooking breakfast,'' said Dorothy Lough, of Davenport, who lived on a military base at the time. Mrs. Lough and her husband, a member of the Navy, heard of the attack from a military broadcast.

``There was a lot of activity after that. They started the black-out. Within 24 hours there wasn't a window that wasn't covered. I think that's when we started to realize how serious it was,'' she said.

But the 25-year-old Mrs. Lough didn't panic. ``Being that young I couldn't understand how serious it was,'' she said.

Soon after the attack Mrs. Lough realized she probably had more of a reason to be frightened than she understood at the time. She knows that there were Japanese submarines in her area that day. ``I know two of them they got just off the point, that was within walking distance,'' she said.

``It wasn't long before they evacuated us,'' said Mrs. Lough, who was in Seattle by Christmas. That trip also proved to be a risky ordeal. It was ``quite an experience on the way down with unidentified submarines all around,'' she said.

-- Ruth Stepp, of East Moline, was working nights at the hospital in Webster City, Iowa. ``We were just finishing our work for the night. We had our charting and everything done. I remember this so vividly, I was standing in front of the window when we first got the news,'' she said, explaining that this area of the hospital had a big window that looked out on to the town's main street.

Mrs. Stepp said she and her co-workers had a radio at the hospital and, ``if we had our work done we'd have the news on,'' she said. That night the radio brought her and the other nurses the news of Pearl Harbor.

The only word Mrs. Stepp could think of to describe how she felt at that moment was ``stupified.'' ``It just never leaves me. It's a feeling I'll never forget. It was terrible,'' she said.

After her initial shock had worn off Mrs. Stepp said she thought of the Pearl Harbor bombing with ``a lot of fear. We really didn't know what was going to happen. It was a constant worry. My husband was in the service and you just didn't know what was going to happen.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.