Seventy-five years ago today, The Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, “A date which will live in infamy.” The following day, the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later, it declared war on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
In an earlier post, I wrote about Pearl Harbor from the point of view of two families. Today, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of that attack, I’d like to run that post one more time.
Pearl Harbor Wasn’t the Only Target
If you’re a history buff, you probably know how expansive the Imperial Japanese Navy war plans were for December 7, 1941. Besides attacking Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, they planned and carried out simultaneous strikes and movements against several other targets, attacking the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, Midway, Malaya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Java, Sumatra and Shanghai.
There was at least one other place they invaded on that day. But let me keep you guessing for a while.
Less than two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, my parents were married in Mount Vernon, WA. In keeping with wartime frugality, it was a simple civil ceremony. Soon thereafter my dad, who was still actually a Canadian citizen then, was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama for basic training. When he completed training, he was shipped out to fight in North Africa and then in Italy, France, and Germany.
They made him an engineer, which meant he was sent out beyond the front lines to build bridges and such.
During the siege of Monte Cassino, Chet, was killed. Losing his best friend was so painful for my father that he avoided having a best friend again as long as the war continued.
In Nov 1944 during the Battle for Bruyeres in Alsace, France, my dad and another Army engineer were sent out to locate mines by stabbing the ground with a knife. The other man made contact with a mine and was blown to bits. My dad spent the next six weeks in a French hospital before returning to the front.
When my dad was at war, my mom was pregnant with me. After my birth, she sent him pictures of the baby surrounded by hearts and lacy doilies. My dad, who was generally quiet and low-key, wrote mushy letters back to her. (She saved them all.) My favorite quote from him: “I love my wife, baby, rifle & foxhole.” When he returned from the war, I was already three years old.
On the other side of the world my future husband’s family was affected more directly by the attack on Pearl Harbor. They lived on the small Chinese island of Kulangsu (now known as Gulangyu). The area surrounding them had been occupied by the Japanese since 1938. But Kulangsu, which was an International Settlement or Treaty Port, had been spared. Then at 4 a.m. on December 8th 1941 (December 7 on the other side of the International Date Line), the Japanese Marines crossed over from Amoy, and for the next three and a half years, the 70 American, British and Dutch citizens and the nearly 80,000 Chinese on the island lived under Japanese occupation.
While my mother-in-law and her children struggled to survive the occupation, my father-in-law fought the Japanese. He was an engineer too, but unlike my dad who was self-taught, my father-in-law had a degree in engineering. He was a Kuomintang (Nationalist) officer who fought the Japanese for seven long years. In 1949, when the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, he helped arrange for some of the last boats to ferry Nationalist soldiers and their families to Taiwan. By the end of the evacuation, they were lashing small boats together like rafts to cross the Taiwan Strait.
A Few Statistics
After Pearl Harbor the United States declared war on two fronts. By 1945, 418,500 Americans were dead. More than three hundred thousand of them died in Europe; 106,000 in the Pacific Theater.
China, which had been fighting on its own soil since 1937, lost three to four million soldiers and around sixteen million civilians.
Thankfully, my future father-in-law and my own dad were among those soldiers who survived. But as the numbers above show, it was particularly dangerous to be a Chinese civilian during the war. Without adequate food, fuel, clean water and medicine, many people starved or fell ill, my husband’s baby brother among them.
My novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in southeastern China immediately before and after the events of December 7, 1941.
If you’re like many people in the world, you have some connection to Pearl Harbor. Do you have a story to share?
The digital version of Tiger Tail Soup is currently on sale for $1.99. The paperback at $16.95 might suit someone on your Christmas gift list.