World War II

After Pearl, patriotism flourished

... dad has his ear to the radio ...

by Don Norris

I was ten years old when the Japs hit Pearl. News reached us in the afternoon -- we lived in Jersey at the time -- and I have a picture in my mind of my father and mother with an ear up to the living room radio. Television was not commercially available in 1941.

I have another picture in my mind of my father on the front steps, yelling to the neighbors, "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt says we're going to war." And all the men congregating on the street ... It was a Sunday evening, and all our Sunday night radio favorites were pre-empted or interrupted by news announcements.

Ruth and Doug Norris, my parents, with their brand new 1946 Ford and brother Doug Jr.'s 1930's Harley Davidson. In Jersey.

I can remember hearing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announce over the radio -- it was the next day -- that "This day will live in infamy" -- I heard him say that, right in our New Jersey living room.

There was no television -- I can remember, in 1947 -- hitch-hiking from Melrose (Massachusetts) back to Bloomfield (NJ) with a buddy, Jack King, and seeing television for the first time in the window of some store. The screen was small, the picture was fuzzy, and there was a lot of polished wood in its case -- like the radios of the day.

New Eagle Scouts Bob Hill, Don Norris and Bob Buhrman, in 1945.

My dad was one of the first to sign up as an air-raid warden, to wear a white helmet -- like that of the English army -- while he patroled the streets during simulated bombing drills. The town was blacked out, no street lights, car headlights wore black covers with tiny slits, and black curtains lined windows in our homes. It was because the lights would reflect off clouds, making easy targets of ships off Long Island and the Jersey shore.

But nobody told us about the many ships that were being sunk in sight of our beaches -- German subs were effective in 1942. We never knew of the great loss of life at Pearl Harbor until after the war. Whether this was manipulation of newspapers -- or perhaps official secrets that weren't shared -- we were fed information, we learned later. The war effort was universal, and many civil liberties were abrogated in the name of patriotism.

Now in Melrose, 1947: Dad's Ford and Sgt. Douglas Norris's 1931 Model A convertible, purchased in 1945.

I was in Scouts, and much of our scout-time was spent on war projects -- building things, planting gardens, collecting scrap iron, studying first-aid, identifying Jap and Kraut airplanes and ships. Several of us would hitch-hike the 60 miles across New Jersey to our troop cabin in the Kittatiny Mountains. At 14, near the end of the war, I was given a .45 revolver by a friend of my father's, and I carried that piece in my backpack while hitching to Camp Oschner. Trees in the forest became Japanese and German targets.

I remember there was a sudden growth in Scouting as we civilians settled into a wartime attitude. There were parades, and patriotic speeches, and rallies for our boys in service. We Scouts did our part as best we could.

Once, late in the war, I "borrowed" one of my brother's uniforms and walked through the center of Bloomfield. Men slapped me on the back, shook my hand and even offered to buy me a beer. I quickly high-tailed it back home, hitch-hiking. Hitching was a popular means of transportation for young people -- people were not afraid of strangers in those days. We were at war, and there was an overwhelming sense of patriotism.

Perhaps there are Mirror readers who DO remember. It would help if they would write to us with their memories of that "day of infamy".


Don Norris

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