Water Closet for 12-7-13 Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941 is to us old timers what September 11, 2001 is to younger folks. On both days many Americans died in a short time. In the case of “9/11” the attackers were 19 Saudi Arabian terrorists. Angry, our country attacked Iraq and Afghanistan. On December 7, 1941 the bombing raid on Pearl Harbor was the diabolical work of the Imperial Japanese Navy sent across the Pacific by out of control Japanese war lords. Its bombers flew in from aircraft carriers northwest of Oahu, Hawaii.
The old Closeteer, then eight, clearly remembers gathering around his Uncle Karl’s radio a few minutes after noon with him, two younger cousins, and two aunts. The future Closeteer’s mother was in the hospital with then much feared pneumonia. It was a bright Sunday. Aunt Winnie and Aunt Annie had not long before returned from church. The three adults in the group were obviously very upset as reports of the bombing came in. The future Closeteer can’t remember anything they said. His younger cousins were as mystified as he. Where is Hawaii? Who are the Japanese?
Monday, the following day, was more enlightening. We knew how many ships had been sunk and roughly how many men were dead or dying. All seemingly agreed that the Japanese were sneaky warriors. When older we learned that the warrior resides to some degree in many of us and can be too easily aroused by folks with an extra dose of patriotism. It was rumored that the young men in town were already rushing to sign up. At school our strict principal, “Old Biddy Noyes” to us behind our teachers’ and parents’ backs, gathered all 180 or so of us, grades one through eight, in the 8th grade room where she had set up a radio. There we heard the distinctive voice of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he delivered his short “Day of Infamy” speech. All stood at attention. No sound other than his voice is remembered. By the end of the speech our country was formally at war with enemies across and in two oceans. “Remember Pearl Harbor” was the country’s battle cry. It was truly a water war on a massive scale. In the next four years thousands of ships were sunk; hundreds of thousands of allied and enemy sailors died. In small Salisbury, boys and girls knew many of the soldiers and sailors from our town. As the war went on the boys proudly wore their superseded rating badges. When a man was promoted, say from corporal to sergeant or seaman to third class petty officer, he would often send his old stripes to kids, often pen pals at home. Eight Salisbury men didn’t come home. Gold stars hung in their parents’ windows.
At night in blacked out Salisbury by the sea we sometimes heard strange deep rumblings from the east. The next day workers from heavily protected Portsmouth Navy Yard came home with rumors of depth charge attacks on lurking German U-boats. The hull of one still lies in shallow water just south of the Isles of Shoals.
The bottoms of the South Pacific and North Atlantic are littered with the steel debris of WWII. It provides rich habitats for sea creatures. Wrecks from the war still tear fishing nets. We old timers vividly remember those exciting and, to us, glorious days when evil struck from above, below, and on the surface, and our good guys struck back and triumphed. The entire industrial capacities of nations poured forth steel for the aggressors and those attacked. Miles of anchor chains encrusted with corals, anemones, and barnacles still lie on sea floors. For a few years, or only weeks, they clattered down and up hawse pipes. Millions of gun barrels, from 20mm to 16 inches, are now safely encrusted and corroding in the deep would that all the rest, clean and dangerous, were there. Unexploded mines, torpedoes and bombs still sink into bottom sands and mud. Countless spent weapons are resting safely in those peaceful places. Wouldn’t it be nice if NRA stood for an active group worldwide called No Rifles Allowed; rifles standing for all war machines?
Guns and other weapons found and cleaned of pollutants would be melted down for peaceful uses or consigned to the deep where it is continuously cold and quiet. No longer destroyers, their elements would in time be released and taken up by organisms and minerals and thus rendered useful to life. An old 19th century hymn* comes to mind. We’ll end this wishful thinking with its chorus, a favorite of the old Closeteer’s late father.
“And calm and peaceful is my sleep, Rock’d in the cradle of the deep.
And calm and peaceful in my sleep, Rock’d in the cradle of the deep.”
* Lyricist: Emma Hart Willard. Composer: Joseph Phillip Knight, 1840