My last column referred to VJ day 1945, Victory over Japan ending World War II. But, we must go back to the day that it began. We left my Uncle Sidney telling his sister Rosie, my Mother about serving in the U.S. Navy and his thoughts.
There was a beginning to that war. It began on Sunday, December 7, 1941:
The day started out as usual. Families going to church. Children playing. My mother was busy preparing breakfast for the family and listening to the radio. Then the announcement came that changed our lives forever. "The United States of America was attacked at 8 AM Hawaii time by the Naval and Air forces of the Empire of Japan".
The news stunned the world and the very next day war would be declared by the Congress of the United States. My future wife was eight years old and cried because 'The Shadow", her favorite radio show was knocked off the air. And, I was all of nine. My memory of the time saw my parents very agitated as they started to speak in Russian. They did that when they didn't want their four boys to understand. When they did this we knew something was wrong. Then they told us about what just happened and that we were going to war.
What? We wondered what was war, what was bombing by The Empire of Japan? Did that mean we couldn't finish our radio program? How naive we were!
On December 8, 1941 the country came to a standstill as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the Congress of the United States and the American people. " Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the Naval and Air force of The Empire of Japan". FDR continued on and towards the conclusion of his historical address "Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence of our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable victory, so help us God".
Then the request to Congress followed that thrust us into WW II. "I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire". Then there was thunderous applause and the voices of Congress as we entered WWII.
The Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. They attacked Guam. They attacked the Philippine Islands, Wake Island and Midway Island. However, history tells us the Japanese made a tactical error that might have thrown the United States into chaos. The Admiralty would not attack Pearl Harbor any further. A second wave might have finished destroying our battleships and bases. It is said they "awakened a sleeping giant with the attack of Pearl Harbor". And indeed they did.
Immediately thousands of volunteers came to Oahu to rebuild the carriers and salvage what they could. And, in the States the recruiting offices were inundated with thousands of men who enlisted in our armed forces, whether it was the Navy, Army, Marine Corps or Air Force. And among the enlistees was my Uncle Sidney who at twenty years of age signed into the Navy.
After basic training he was sent to the Philippine Islands where he remained for the duration of the war. He was assigned to the CB's construction battalion also known as the Sea bees. They were to repair damaged air fields and roads bombed the Japanese air force and also to build roads so our troops would have better movement. My uncle remained there until 1945 when the Japanese surrendered and he was discharged back into civilian life. And there we are back with him visiting my Mother.
When they settled down after the crying and tears of joy he told us some the events that I remember to this day. His favorite saying was "Here I am a good Jewish boy from the south side of Chicago and these frigging Japs wanted to kill me". He told us about the time he was in a submarine on the bottom of the ocean while the Japanese Navy dropped depth charges. He said "if you don't think you shit in your pants believe me, you did. You are in a floating coffin hearing the charges explode and your sub is rolling from the blast of the bombs".
And then there is the one thing above all others that I heard. He was unhappy when General Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines to go to Australia, leaving his troops stranded to be captured. History has since explained why MacArthur left: by orders of our Commander in Chief. But at time that's the way the "boys" looked at it .
And so my Uncle Sidney along with thousands of others returned to somewhat of a normal life as civilians. He lived until the age of 84 but I will never forget this graceful man who only wanted peace for his children and future generations. Rest in peace my beloved Uncle. You did your duty so years later your nephew could write about what a dear man you were.
Memories light the corners of my mind and I hope yours too.