Just as the attack by Japanese on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, came on a Sunday, so is today’s 73rd anniversary of that fateful day.
As the attack stunned all Americans, so were Hall Countians who were thinking more about preparations for Christmas than getting ready for an all-out world war. Already involved in the European war, most Americans were shocked over the opening of hostilities on another far-flung front.
Despite U.S. military already fully engaged against the Axis in Europe, numerous normal activities continued locally. University of Georgia fabled football coach Wally Butts was speaking to the Rotary Club and Gainesville High School football players. His Bulldogs would be playing Missouri in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1. The Red Elephants named Glenn Gilreath as their football captain for the next year.
Both the local newspapers at the time, the Gainesville News and the Gainesville Eagle, were filled with the usual social news and columns from country correspondents, as well as wall-to-wall ads appealing to store customers to shop their shelves for Christmas. Frierson-McEver was advertising its men clothing gift suggestions, and Gainesville’s downtown square was the beehive of holiday shopping and other activities. Cantatas were ringing the rafters as usual in the churches.
Dec. 7 changed a lot of lives and things. There were at least eight military personnel from Hall County stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time. More would be drafted or volunteer as the attack inspired patriotism around the country.
“Our nation has been apathetic and half-hearted in its efforts not only to defend itself, but to prepare for an all-out struggle against any and all aggressors,” the Gainesville News wrote, but Dec. 7 aroused Americans to answer the call to fight, the newspaper proclaimed.
Georgia had a state defense corps, and more than 50 Hall Countians in Co. A, Military Police, were called up immediately after the attack. They were assigned to posts in Atlanta, some taking the place of regular soldiers guarding Candler Field, the city’s municipal airport at the time. They included men from prominent families, such as Buck Ward, Charles Thurmond, Joe Telford, Howard Overby, Carter Estes, Leonard Cinciolo, Ray Knickerbocker, Pat Ledford, Capt. H.C. Hosch, Lt. Fred Brewer and Lt. Larry Kleckley.
After a few days, however, some were recalled back home amid complaints they didn’t have the proper training and equipment. Some suffered through guard duty in the rain and cold, something they weren’t used to.
A Hall County Defense Council under Ed Kenyon sought volunteers. Lester Hosch was air raid warden, J.L. Cain was fire chief, and Dr. Raleigh Garner led emergency medical teams. Other communities also organized civil defense units, and drills became routine. Some conducted practice “blackouts,” darkening homes and businesses so that enemy airplanes couldn’t find them at night.
L.R. Sams led a disaster committee of the American Red Cross.
As Hall Countians learned news of the attack that Sunday morning, 9th District Rep. B. Frank Whelchel rushed back to Washington to vote on the declaration of war resolution and to remain in the capital during most of the holidays.
Local military recruiting stations stepped up their efforts, and the Hall County Draft Board reviewed its registrations, reclassifying some potential draftees to enlarge the pool of people eligible to be called to duty.
Churches promoted prayer services, and one was held every afternoon at First Baptist Church, at the time in downtown Gainesville at the corner of Washington and Green streets.
Some people who were lukewarm about the war in Europe changed their feelings after Pearl Harbor as the battleground spread to the Pacific. One man, who wasn’t identified, wrote the following letter to the Hall County Draft Board after earlier wanting to opt out of the draft:
“I am writing you to let you know that I have a new member in my family — a boy; he was born three weeks ago, and I want to change my answer about going to fight for my country to defend it from attack. The reason I put it like I did I objected to going across the ocean to fight others’ battles, but if my country is in danger, I am ready when my country needs me.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.