WOSTER: The challenge that forced us together
If the story I read about longtime ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson is true, his mother went out on this date, December 8 in 1941, and bought a radio.
The Japanese had completed a surprise attack on United States military posts in Hawaii the previous day, the "date that will live in infamy'' we remember as Pearl Harbor Day. Apparently the Donaldsons had never owned a radio until the attack. Sam's mother wanted one to listen to war news. Sam was seven years old.
I hope people in this country paused in their bickering and trolling and grousing on various social media platforms yesterday long enough to remember the massive casualties and remarkable heroism of that day 77 years ago, to pay respects to the lives lost or forever changed, and to reflect on the feelings of helplessness and terror and, yes, blind anger that must have engulfed the American people. Pearl Harbor Day is a moment in the history of our country that deserves — that demands — to be remembered.
When I read the story about Sam Donaldson's mom going out to purchase a radio in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, it struck me how vastly different this nation and its people were when they were forced to face the prospect of war, just a couple of decades after World War I.
Daily newspapers and the upstart radio provided news and commentary in those days. Entire families traded sections of the newspaper after the evening meal and gathered in parlors to hear updates from battles in Europe and the South Pacific. Neighbors traded newspapers to read dispatches from the front and allowed neighbors to sit with them to hear the latest broadcasts from Washington, D.C., and overseas.
I wasn't born until 1944, so I am aware of these things because my folks talked sometimes about that period in America and because I read histories that described conditions in the country during the war years. I am old enough to remember when my folks would drive us two miles up the road to our cousins' place because they had a television and we could watch Liberace or Milton Berle. Peculiar times, I suppose, for anyone who has never known a world without 24-hour television, the world on a phone screen and raging social media discussions.
Listening together to war news may have contributed to a feeling that we were in it together. Worrying over loved ones and enduring wartime rationing may have done the same. I recall, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, watching and listening to members of Congress sing "God Bless America'' as they stood on the Capitol steps in a show of unity. Such moments mirror the post-Pearl Harbor response. They are all too rare today.
A feature story on the Dallas News website says, "In 1942, recruiting stations burst at the seams with millions of American men and women lining up to enlist in various service branches.'' Americans who didn't serve weren't completely passed by. Many commodities were rationed for the war effort. Tires, gasoline, cheese, butter, nylon and silk were among the items in limited quantity for the average citizen. People got along without what they couldn't get.
The Dallas News site notes that in the summer of 1942, George H.W. Bush's name appeared on the same page as Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams' in a memo to the chief of naval personnel. Both men had enlisted to fight the country's enemy. Williams was coming off a baseball season that ended with his record .406 batting average. He put down bat and glove and went to war. Bush, a child of privilege who quite possibly could have found a way to avoid the battle, did the same. Countless others did, as well.
It sometimes seems our country is at its best when unthinkable challenges force us together. So many of us have been so richly blessed, it's a shame when we squander our gifts in divisiveness. Perhaps that's why Pearl Harbor sticks in my mind, a date of infamy and a time for a mom to buy a radio to catch the news.