Monday, December 5, 2011

December 7, 1941

December 7, 1941

This "a date which will live in infamy" expressed by then President, Roosevelt, resonated in Pottstown, I'm sure, with shock. But, over in the farm country of Chester County near Harmonyville where we were living then, a quiet hush filled the air when we first heard the message.

My mother's cousin from Scotland, Jock Piggot, arrived here by train from Philadelphia the day before, a Saturday, for his only ever visit here? He was the Captain of a British transport ship in port at Philadelphia taking on supplies for the English home front already at war. 

On Sunday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and after it Dad and my brother both queried Jock about his sea faring, with me nearing the age of seven, I was popping in and out the room. Mom was busy preparing a large meal for mid-afternoon and I, as usual, was her go get it guy when called away from the conversations.

Normally on a Sunday if we hadn't gone to church, as happened that day, Dad would read his paper while listening to the radio. His favorite station was WOR out of New York with Rambling With Gambling a staple. My brother, Andy, and I would have been outside for sometime by then. Our life on Houck Road just off Harmonyville Road was then recorded in memory as either before or after indoor plumbing. That meant an outhouse or an indoor cellar toilet ; a bath in the cellar in a large metal tub with water heated on a wood-coal stove then poured in the large tub sitting on the floor or taking a shower in a simple cellar stall with water heated by a bucket a day coal stove.

After our big afternoon meal Dad and Jock retired back again to the living room for more talk. It would be getting on to late afternoon and Dad, a news junky, finally turned on the radio. Nothing but the attack on Pearl Harbor was heard with endless reports from Washington and where ever else. The first bombs fell at Pearl at 7:55 AM so east coast time would have been five or six hours later, or early afternoon. 

Jock was ashen when he stood up dressed in his causal clothes and announced to Dad and Andy that he must get back to his ship. With that up the stairs he doubled stepped coming back down fully outfitted in his dress blues complete with his Captain's hat a suitcase in hand. Will you please take me to the train station in Pottstown, immediately, Alex ? Dad did so after a hurried good by and we never saw him again though we heard he had a ship or two blow out from under him during the War. He, to our knowledge, lived through the War and for sometime after hopefully in good health.

I remember the Second World War as a young boy being scared when the Light Warden rapped at the door at night informing Mom and Dad to pull the special black curtains closer together because a sliver of light was peeping through. The sound of an airplane engine sent many a chill up my spine.

The Second World War altered the way Americans have lived ever since. The ever ongoing tragedy, seems to me, to be that winning this war did not herald in a century or two of peace and prosperity that we thought we fought for. Might not always turns out to be right; rather it sets up a King Of The Hill attitude in the World where defending turf is paramount. Why, oh, why ?

Ronald C. Downie

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