Dec. 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy” — the words spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Congress as he declared war on Japan for the attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years ago. For tens of thousands of young Americans, their lives changed forever. So did the world.
A few years back I had the privilege of doing a series of documentaries for Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, interviewing World War II veterans of the air wars both in Europe and the Pacific.
The first question I always asked was how did they first hear the news about the attack? Keep in mind, news then didn’t travel as fast as it does in today’s speed of light information world.
Saul Nova was playing a pick-up basketball game as a 17-year-old kid in New Jersey. There was a candy store across the street where a radio was always playing. Someone came out and told them about the attack. Saul had never heard of Pearl Harbor. He soon learned.
He enlisted, flew a P-38 in the Pacific Theater and also took part in the Allied occupation of Japan after the war. In November of 1945, he flew his plane over Nagasaki. He was stunned by what he saw. Nothing left. Nothing. He told me from that time on he was against the use of nuclear weapons.
Fredric Arnold was a student at the Art Institute in Chicago, sketching nudes of all things. He told me someone came down the hallway telling everyone that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. His reaction? “Who’s Pearl? Who attacked her?” Later, he found out thousands were killed in the attack at our naval base half a world away.
He later served like Saul as a P-38 pilot flying missions out of Africa. He was shot down twice, both times making it back safely — a good thing for a Jewish fighter pilot who was fighting the Nazis.
Later in life, Fredric was the sculptor and artist of an extraordinary art exhibit now on display at the WWII Museum in New Orleans. “Lest We Forget: The Mission” honors not only his squadron mates but all who served. It is extraordinary.
Clyde Hussey was coming home from a picnic in East Texas. When he got home, the phone rang. It was the principal of his school. He asked Clyde if he could bring the family’s big radio to school the next day. Clyde asked why, the principal then telling him about the attack and that President Roosevelt would be addressing the nation and he wanted the whole school to hear the speech.
Clyde went on to become a B-29 radio operator flying missions out of Guam, including the “Last Mission.” His B-29 was the last plane to drop the last bombs on Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. Clyde got the news the Japanese surrendered on the way back to Guam, telling me it was about the same time “that sailor was kissing that nurse in Time Square.” What did he do? He went to sleep, waking up just as his plane was taxiing to a stop, having run out of fuel on that 16-hour mission. That last mission.
I also got to interview Carwood Lipton, a member of the 101st Airborne, the Band of Brothers. He was played in the HBO series by Donnie Wahlberg. This time it was his answer to the last question I asked him that I will never forget. Did he think today’s generation would sign up to serve like his generation did should America ever be attacked again? “Absolutely,” he told me. He had no doubt they would.
We shot that interview Sept. 10, 2001.
Saul, Fredric, Clyde and Carwood have all since passed. Just four kids whose lives and thousands of others changed forever on Dec. 7,1941. As we mark 80 years since Pearl Harbor and 20 since 9/11 let’s honor those who served then, today and in the future.
Brian Olson is a Gainesville resident who spent 35 years in broadcast journalism and corporate communications, much of it in the area of commercial and military aviation and aerospace.