‘A day that will live in infamy’

Joe Jerome had just left a bowling alley in northern Minnesota, while hundreds of miles away in Knoke, Martin Mack was enjoying an easy day at the gasoline station where he worked.

In Chicago, Virginia Kelley was getting ready for brunch in her apartment.

Jerome, Mack, Kelley and millions of other Americans were going through their normal daily routines 72 years ago today when they learned of an event that changed world history and their lives. On that day, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed would live in infamy, Japanese forces attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor and plunged the United States into World War II.

A handful of Fort Dodge residents who remember the Dec. 7, 1941, attack recently recalled the shock, grief and even fear that they experienced on that Sunday and the days that followed.

“That particular day, I think, was a shock to America similar to when the Twin Towers were attacked,” said Bill Kerwin, who lives at the Marian Home and Village in Fort Dodge.

For anyone who followed current events in 1941, it was obvious that there was tension between the United States and Japan, according to Jerome and other Fort Dodge residents who recalled the time. Jerome added that there was some concern that there could be a war.

Kelley, a resident of Friendship Haven, recalled that the National Guard had been called to active duty before the attack occurred.

“There was a song called ‘Goodbye Dear, I’ll Be Back In A Year’ because they believed they were being called up for a year,” she said.

In 1941, Jerome was 18 and living on the family farm in northern Minnesota. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was in Baudette, Minn., and had just left a bowling alley there. He said he was driving a 1937 Oldsmobile with a “pretty decent radio in it” when news of the attack was broadcast.

“As I got in the car and drove a block it came over the radio,” he said. “That just froze you for a minute.”

“That particular time is burned in my head because of the trauma it caused,” he added.

Inside the Knoke gasoline station, Mack was leaning back in a chair with his feet propped up on a table on that Sunday.

“I can still see myself sitting there,” said Mack, who also lives at the Marian Home and Village. “It was my Sunday to work.”

He received word of the attack while at the station. He knew immediately where Pearl Harbor is located because a friend of his was a sailor on the battleship USS Arizona, which was sunk during the attack. He learned later that his friend was killed.

Kelley, who was 21 at the time, said she was getting ready for a brunch she was hosting when she heard a radio report on the attack.

“I think we were stunned,” she said.

Kerwin was 9 years old and living in Carroll when the attack occurred. He said he came inside after playing touch football and was told of the attack.

Cornelius Sherman, another resident of the Marian Home and Village, was 10 years old and scared when he heard about the attack. He worried that Japanese troops would soon invade.

“I kept asking, ‘You think they’ll get over here, Dad?'” he said.

Sherman remembers listening to Roosevelt’s speech on the radio the following day. He was intrigued by the president’s accent, especially the way he pronounced the word war.

“He said it kind of funny,” Sherman said.

Soon after war was declared, the American government began rationing gasoline, tires, sugar and meat, according to those who remember the time period.

Elsworth Bigelow, of the Marian Home and Village, recalled that the owner of a service station in his hometown of Rockwell City stockpiled tires and sold them on the black market.

“He got a good price for them – don’t think he didn’t,” Bigelow said.

News that the government rounded up Japanese-Americans on the West Coast and placed them in internment camps reached the Midwest not long after the attack.

“They were good Americans,” Jerome said. “They were people that should not have been treated that way.”

He was sworn into the Navy on Dec. 7, 1942, and spent the rest of the war working as a hospital corpsman at a fleet hospital on the Pacific Ocean island of New Caledonia.

Kelley enlisted in the Navy and worked in a logistics office in Boston.

Bigelow, who said he hated marching, enlisted in the Merchant Marine so that he wouldn’t have to go into the Army. He didn’t entirely escape the Army because he was assigned to a troop transport ship and made several trans-Atlantic voyages.

Mack went into the Army and was part of a unit that occupied Heidelberg, Germany, in the last days of the war.