“Extra, Extra! Read All About It!!”

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!!

by

Russell Harris

 My Pearl Harbor story starts with me and my boss, Frank Martini, delivering the Los Angeles Times. Our route covered the area between La Crescenta, Glendale and Pasadena. This particular morning, when we pulled up to a small store in La Crescenta the clerk told Frank to call the office. We had no idea what was up. You would think with all that was going on with Hitler in Europe, people would have just been waiting for news that the U.S. had been formally sucked into the war. As for Japan, the average person either totally dismissed the possibility or wasn’t even aware of the political wrangling that was going on behind the scenes. This despite Japan being formally allied with Germany. Or its invasion of Manchuria and General Tojo becoming Prime Minister. We should have been prepared.

And me? Well, I was a typical sixteen-year-old guy, that is to say, clueless. My world consisted of high school and girls. My family had moved to California from Binghamton, New York just the year before. There was a lack of jobs on the east coast, so my dad and my uncle fired up their 1930’s Model A Ford and drove from across the country to find work. Remember, this was the tail end of the Great Depression. My mother had followed him out a while later with my brother, sister and me in tow. Boy, were we a bunch of scared kids on that Greyhound bus, leaving everything and everyone we knew behind!  

 Frank Martini had kind of taken me under his wing and given me my first real paying job. He was middle-aged man who’d been in the newspaper business for years. He was the energetic type, always on the go. In fact, I usually found it hard to keep up with him on these early morning delivery runs.

Frank went to make the call. I unloaded a few stacks of papers for the store and started folding some for delivery. Frank came running back out a few minutes later. “Just leave the papers,” he said. “Come on! We’re going downtown.” I knew that meant we were returning to the main office of the Los Angeles Times, which was nearly an hour’s drive away. We hopped into his late 30’s grey sedan.

Frank hauled ass to the office while I tried to make room for an extra edition of the paper. To do that, I shoved the old one into stacks, and each time we stopped I’d throw the old editions into the trunk. He drove like a maniac, tossing me around in the back seat. This was before you had to wear seat belts.

 It wasn’t until we reached the office that Frank said, “Hawaii’s been bombed. They’re putting out an extra edition. We have to load it up and get it delivered.” I started pulling papers out of the car to make room. The conveyer belt was right there and Frank had me grab the bundles with the extra editions and stack them in the car. We filled the back seat and trunk. There was barely room left for me.

 I remember seeing the headline--just one word: “WAR!” Then there was a subtitle: “Hawaii Bombed!” Another subtitle said that the Philippines had been bombed too. I didn’t have time to think about the ramifications of this. I was too busy trying to fold papers for delivery as we hurtled down the street. I never saw a man drive so fast and I was never so scared in my life. When you’re on your knees on the floorboard of a car that’s flying down the road, taking turns too fast, and speeding through intersections, the threat to life and limb seems a lot more immediate than anything that might be happening hundreds of miles away.

 About halfway through our deliveries, the war came much closer to home for me.  We pulled into the driveway of a single-story home on Sunland Highway. The front entrance had a double overhang, and it had one big door with windows on each side. I walked up to the door to deliver the paper. It was dark inside. I knocked just like I did for all customers. A heavy-set man opened the door. He didn’t say anything at first. I said, “Here’s your paper,” holding it out to him. When he took the paper, the light illuminated his face. He was Japanese. He said something I couldn’t understand, but I assumed was Japanese.

By now, I could see into the large living room. It was full of Japanese men huddled around a radio listening to war news. There had to be a least a dozen of them. All adults. All men. I also spotted some maps spread out on a table. They were charting a bunch of stuff and had a lot of radio equipment in the room. The men inside spoke in rough-voiced Japanese.

I didn’t think of all Japanese as the enemy. Someone had bombed us, yes. But I knew a lot of Japanese kids in my class. Most of them were as American as you or me. They were real nice and very friendly. I figured that it had to be the militarized faction in their culture that had driven them to war. Even so, I recognized what it was that might be going on there, and I thought: Whoops, I got to get out of here! I turned and ran back to the car without even asking for the 25 cents for the extra edition. Frank was turning the car around. I jumped into the back seat. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Why?” he asked.

“There’s Japanese in that house,” I replied, and we sped away. For the rest of the route, I just tossed the papers at the doors. It was a heck of a lot faster and maybe a little safer.

After a while, Frank got another call. That Extra Edition was dead. A new edition was out. We sped back to the main office and replaced the old papers with the new. While I did that, Frank ran upstairs to the editor’s office and got more details about what had happened in the Pacific. He also reported that group of Japanese. I don’t know if they were spies, but with all those maps and equipment, it sure seemed suspicious. I do know that the next day the house was empty. Rumor was they were picked up and taken away by military and government types. Perhaps they were among the first to be sent to one of the Japanese internment camps.  

Back then, I didn’t even consider the ethical dilemma created by locking up American citizens who happen to be of Japanese descent. I don’t even remember noticing that all Japanese kids in my school were suddenly no longer attending. It just didn’t even register that they and their families were probably locked up somewhere. In fact, as I think back on it, I didn’t find out about the internment camps until late into the war. I was in the service myself by then and believed it when they told us that it was necessary for the sake of the war effort.

 Actually, for the next two days after Pearl Harbor, not much registered with me. I was glued to Frank’s hip as we kept making the rounds, delivering the latest news as it developed. Frank was all go, go, go; and I was tired, tired, tired. When I could, I napped on the stacks of papers that were dropped off and stored in his garage awaiting delivery. I was so wiped out by the time Frank let me go, I don’t even remember walking home. Thankfully, it was only a couple of blocks and my feet knew the way home. 

I slept off the exhaustion and woke to a world changed, only I didn’t realize just how different things would be. Just a few days after the attack, my father received a notice from the Navy. He immediately told my mom and us kids, “I’m going back into the service and we’re moving to San Diego.” He’d been ordered to report to the destroyer base there.

I could see the pain in his eyes. Our country had been brutally attacked. And although he was glad to be doing something about it, he probably understood better than most how war would change our lives. He’d been a carpenter’s First Mate in the Navy some years before and he realized after the destruction at Pearl that there’s be a lot of shipbuilding to do. Being recalled to duty could mean eventually being sent somewhere his family could not follow, somewhere potentially dangerous. 

My dad didn’t seem the least bit afraid, just sad. He was driven and pretty tough. In fact, while he’d been stationed on the battleship, USS Pennsylvania, he’d claimed the title of Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. He brought that intensity to everything he did. Now it was his duty to help defend our country.

If life before Pearl Harbor had been rather nonchalant, that all changed after the attack. Even those who had been against getting into the war wanted to go full throttle now. I mean, December 7 happened, and we were just mobilizing and reacting to that. Then, on December 11 Germany declared war on us. Even though unofficially the struggle had been going on for a while, now we were fighting a war on two fronts. For those first few days, while we were delivering those extra editions, most people were jammed into their living rooms listening to the radio. Nobody seemed to be really doing anything, probably because they didn’t know how to respond. They were just trying to find out what was really happening. Are we going to have the Germans on our neck? Are we going to have the Japanese on our neck? People were stunned, scared, angry. And then the president gave his famous speech: “December 7--a day that will live in infamy...” After that, people started to mobilize to meet the challenge.

Keep in mind, American ships, not even ten miles off our east coast, were getting sunk with alarming regularity even before the formal declaration of war with Germany. It had been in the newsreels at the movie theaters. The problem was that we as a nation couldn’t agree on what to do about it. Now there was no more doubt. We had to fight!

Like most people, I wanted to do my part. I was all gung-ho to go get these guys who’d attacked our country. I didn’t even mind moving in the middle of my junior year. I figured as soon as I graduated, they’d call me up anyway, and that was okay with me. I wanted to be a pilot, so I figured I’d join the Air Corps. The fact that there was a war going on didn’t really bother me. I was so sure of myself and my plans to become a pilot that I even dreamed of being some great war hero! I became a legend in my own mind! On top of the world! All the girls were my girlfriends! Once I became an Air Corps pilot, I’d win the war almost singlehandedly! Of course, that didn’t turn out to be how it went.  Life seldom goes as planned.

 

The End

To purchase the 168 page anthology, Reflections of World War II, for just $15, simply send an e-mail to rebeccainchpartridge@gmail.com with your name, address and the number of copies you wish to order. Then click on the PayPal icon below to complete your purchase. If you don’t use PayPal, no problem. Just let me know you need to send a check and I’ll send you the address to mail it to. The price includes all postage and handling fees as well as a $1.00 donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.