Sunday, December 7, 1941- Pearl Harbor through the eyes of my mother by Tracy Diane Miller

I have always been a lover of history. As a child, I had a curiosity, one might say a morbid curiosity, with reading tombstones. I would think about the people buried in the cemeteries. Who were they? What were their lives like? What moments were important to them? These common, everyday people who would never occupy the history books.

Maybe Fate always decided that I would love history. There is a sense of irony that I was born on July 4th. That was a point of great pride for me. The first writing contest I won was for the bicentennial in 1976 when I wrote a piece about how happy I was to share my birthday with America. I was eleven years old. I can’t believe that was forty years ago. I remember it so well.

My mother was a lover of history too. Born in 1924, she was a living witness to many of the events that shaped the world’s consciousness. As a child, I was enamored with her photographic memory and her story telling ability. I like to believe that I inherited these skills from her.

One story she told every year on its anniversary was her account of what she was doing the day Pearl Harbor was bombed: Sunday, December 7, 1941. For this day that “will live in infamy” (as FDR so eloquently predicted) started out as a typical day for her. She, her mother and father were going to attend church then do some family activities. My mother was living in Atlantic City, NJ at the time and that meant beach and boardwalk time. Yes, America wore the blatant culture of segregation in those bygone days with its “colored beaches” and “colored only water fountains”, but my mother, forever the optimist, felt things could be better.

America seems to come together in crisis so when news of the Pearl Harbor bombing hit the radio waves, the anguish and shock was palpable enough to unite people as citizens of the country they loved. My mother said that she saw white and black people hug and comfort each other along the Atlantic City streets. The unspoken fear and truth was that America was going to war. My mother talked of her classmates who enlisted and of the many who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. She worked the war effort through the USO, singing for the soldiers.

Seventy-five years later, most of these courageous witnesses to Pearl Harbor have passed away. Those of us who remain have the responsibility to keep their memories and stories alive. These proud champions of compassion and freedom may not have aspired to the distinction but they are heroes. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries. Most of these people don’t have their names blazed in history books. But all of them are heroes whose destinies were shaped by that “day that lives in infamy.”

 

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