World War II

Remembering Pearl Harbor

... a personal story

by Irving Smolens

On the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was 17 years old. As a high school senior I was leading a somewhat carefree life anticipating my graduation and looking forward either to joining the work force or applying to one of the nearby colleges and universities.

All of those options immediately were gone. In retrospect, I could have enrolled in a college that had an ROTC program and if allowed to continue till graduation I would have become a lieutenant. I chose not to do that and just awaited my draft number coming up.

Perhaps I was too naive to experience fear. I had not paid much attention to the condition of our armed forces so was unaware of the deplorable condition they were in. We did not know the devastating losses we had suffered when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor without a declaration of war. Our entire Pacific Fleet was in very serious danger of being destroyed. Revealing the true extent of the damage from the criminal attack would have only emboldened the Japanese further.

I had grown up watching John Wayne and other movies in which the good guys always triumphed in the end so even though defeat after defeat followed the Pearl Harbor attack I never lost faith that ultimately we would win the conflict with Japan and the Axis powers that had declared war on the US shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack.

I also had the utmost faith in the leadership of President Roosevelt and that he would pick the correct military and civilian leaders who would train and mobilize our armed forces and organize the necessary war and food production to enable our country and its allies to ultimately overwhelm our enemies.

I did not report for active duty until April 26, 1943, so I worked as a shipping clerk for a year after my high school graduation in 1942.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed my life. That attack enabled me, who had never been more than five or ten miles from home, to broaden my geographic and personal horizons. It made me realize that I could handle responsibility and exercise some leadership if it became necessary. Even after I was drafted I had no idea of the part I would actually come to play in our final victory. Aside from June 6,1944 (D-day in Normandy) three dates stick in my mind, June 25, the day we liberated Cherbourg; July 25, the day we spearheaded the St. Lo Breakout from the Normandy hedgerows; and August 25, Paris liberation day. I was fortunate to have been a part of those important events.   

My army service helped me get a college education under the GI Bill of Rights enabling me to have a moderately successful business career.

December 7, 2007

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