Dec. 7, 1941: A date that changed the nation
By CAITLIN ANDREWS | Foster's Daily Democrat | Published: December 6, 2015
ROCHESTER, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — As the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor approaches, the dwindling number of people who were alive during the attack have differing thoughts and feelings about what happened.
According to the Veteran's Administration, some 492 World War II veterans are dying each day. The VA estimates there are 855,070 veterans of the 16 million who served during the war are still alive today.
Locals who were alive can all agree on one thing: The attack changed them and the country forever.
On the front lines
Walter Klare, 98 of Dover, remembers playing baseball on Dec. 7, 1941, at the 3rd Defense Battalion of the Marines barracks near Pearl Harbor where he was stationed. At first, it looked like it was going to be an ordinary day, then, someone shouted, "The Japs are coming! Get back to the barracks, grab your helmets and rifles!"
It wasn't long before Japanese fighter planes headed toward the American fleet flew overhead, so close Klare said you could almost touch them. He doesn't remember being afraid, however, he said he and his fellow soldiers grabbed their rifles and began shooting at the planes, downing five in the process.
Klare said although he continued to serve in the Marines for 21 years, he does not have any strong feelings about the attack.
"I learned to let things go," he said.
At the home front
Jake Collins, 78 of Rochester, said he was just 4 years old on the day of the attack. Although he cannot remember what happened before or after Dec. 7, he said that day was "seared in my memory."
"A neighborhood boy from down the street came running, shouting 'The Japs attacked Pearl Harbor!'" he said. "While I didn't know what was happening exactly, I knew it was bad."
And for the next four years, Collins said everything about his life changed.
"Within weeks and months everyone who could serve was gone," he said. "There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and a desire to help."
Helping did not just include signing up for the service, but pitching in at home. Everything from gas to flour was rationed, and he remembers picking up scraps of tin foil to help with the war effort.
"I went to School Street Elementary, and we bought a Jeep for the war," he said. "Every grade paid for something different through war bonds -- one class bought the windshield, another might have paid for the engine, and so on."
Collins remembers a universal anger and distrust toward the Japanese and Germans, a feeling that lasted long after the war ended. He recalled not buying a Japanese car until the 1980s.
"I don't think people felt strongly about it until the propaganda got going," he said. "They showed these small films before the movies where you'd see a soldier getting captured by a Japanese soldier and being treated badly. They were really trying to get us to hate them and people absorbed it."
While Collins feels it is important to remember the blame for the attack lies with the Japanese leadership and not the Japanese people. But, he said, some older generations still harbor resentment.
"Pearl Harbor was a cataclysmic event for the country as it led straight to war," Collins said. "It was probably the biggest event in my life, and I hope nobody forgets it, because who knows if we would have the fortitude to face an attack like that again."
Norm Sanborn Sr., 87, of Rochester, said he feels the country's unity during the war was due to a strong sense of patriotism, something he feels is lacking today. He was 13 when the attack occurred.
"People are disconnected with the war that's going on today," he said. "I think there was a similar fervor after 9/11, but that wore off pretty quickly."
Sanborn said he and people his age feel strongly about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because they have not only seen the first major attack on United States soil, but have lived through several other conflicts the country has been involved with, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He went on to say while 9/11 was not a declaration of war against the country the way Pearl Harbor precluded a war declaration, he feels the country is hesitating to take more drastic action against terrorist groups for humanitarian reasons.
"People are afraid that we might hurt civilians, but when there's a war, you do what you have to do," he said. "I think Russia might be the only country who could do anything to us that would cause us to come back to life like that."
Part of what made Pearl Harbor so big was the event solidified the United States as a global power, according to University of New Hampshire history professor Kurk Dorsey. Right up until Dec. 7, 1941, you could find newspaper accounts of the isolationists, a political movement that believed the United States would be protected from war involvement by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, he said.
"Isolationists were seen as these tin-hat conspiracy theorists back then, but after Pearl Harbor, you just couldn't be one," he said. "Pearl Harbor destroyed the idea we couldn't be involved in military issues around the world, that we have a security investment in what happens."
Dorsey said Pearl Harbor caused the country to see the oceans as potential highways to attack U.S. soil and contributed to the fear that the Japanese would attack California next, where many Japanese-Americans lived.
But suspicion of the Japanese started long before Pearl Harbor, according to Dorsey.
"There was no evidence that any Japanese-American citizens were aiding anyone, but there were stereotypes that the Japanese were sneaky, tricky people," he said. "The attack just made people go 'Of course they would do something like that.'"
There were also laws in place restricting Japanese-American rights, such as California's Alien Land Laws from 1913 and 1920, which restricted the rights of Japanese-Americans to own land. President Theodore Roosevelt also made a gentlemen's agreement with the Japanese government in 1907 that effectively stopped the immigration of Japanese men to the United States, followed up in 1924 by an immigration reform law that effectively closed off further possibility of emigration.
"Fear is a strong motivator, and anyone who is different can be seen as suspicious," Dorsey said. "I'm Catholic, and look at how they treated John F. Kennedy for his beliefs. It's crazy to think we let people say that, but at the time, people always think 'It's better to be safe than sorry.'"
Dorsey said Pearl Harbor was also noteworthy because it kicked off the only war in U.S. history where there was no dissent against entering the conflict.
"It was probably the turning point in the 20th century," he said. "If you want to understand why we're involved in everything from bombings in Afghanistan to what's going on in Somalia, it's because the war put us, whether we liked it or not, in a position where we were seen as leaders of the free world."
(c) 2015 the Foster's Daily Democrat. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.