A Day that will Live in Infamy

Read about one man's boyhood memories and how they recall his perspective of war on the home front.

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by Herbert E. French, courtesy by Library of Congress
People all over the U.S. — like these visitors at a Washington, D.C., hotel lobby — dropped what they were doing to listen to radio accounts of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Mother sent me to get Dad from the barn. A special radio program was coming on that we needed to hear. She put on a pot of coffee, as it was cold out, and tended to my little brother, Don. We gathered around the old wooden upright Victor radio, crackling with static and noise.

The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, sinking several ships and killing hundreds of Americans. We sat in silence as the reports went on and on. I was 8 years old, unable to fathom what was happening but somehow realized our world was going to change. I became scared.

Dad and Mother started talking, mostly wondering what would happen next. I think the first thing they discussed was Dad’s age of 39 years. Would he be too old for the draft? Then they talked about Uncle CB and Uncle Roy, who were still in their twenties. Then they discussed the number of young neighbors age 18 and up; all would be eligible for the draft. Realizing finally that Dad was too old for the coming war, I somehow knew we would all survive.

Even child’s play took on a different look

Youths were not prepared to foresee all the changes grownups would see. No doubt America was safe from bombing and destruction. I never believed we might be fighting on the farm, but was reminded by each daily news reel that the war was going on.

Yet change among youths and children did occur. Overnight, playing Cowboys and Indians was no longer tolerated. Instantly we shifted to war mode. Our old 2-by-4-inch Winchester Roy Rogers rifles were fitted with bayonets and leather shoulder straps. Our old Gene Autry six-shooters had to make do, but they now held 20 cartridges instead of six.

Our home-made knives were suddenly government attack weapons. The bar-ditches of county roads in every direction were stripped of the little green gourds that instantly became hand grenades. Every old buffalo wallow in the pastures offered pre-dug foxholes or, when full of water, floated wood blocks as the U.S. Navy sailed the seas.

We sat in the Ranger Theater every Saturday afternoon when 30 minutes of war-time news reels showed the details of that which we could not imagine. Unaccustomed to such chaos and cruelty, we slowly toughened up, stood taller, talked the talk and prayed for the brave men who were fighting.

Remembering war-time sacrifices

Eventually the government started programs where everyone could participate and do their share for the war effort. The most memorable program in my young estimation was gathering scrap iron. Our young minds ran wild as we imagined an old horse-drawn plow, dragged from Dust Bowl-era fence, now becoming shells for cannons used in the war.

Each of us remembered seeing such relics half-buried in a field corner when we were hunting rabbits. When the scrap drives started, we pulled old iron out with a tractor and smiled as it was loaded on a railcar headed for the steel mills, to be recycled into war material.

For the first time in my life, even if you had the money, certain items could not be obtained. Many of those things were not necessarily war items, but the people who produced them had turned to wartime production. Our biggest problem on the farm was finding replacement parts and materials for our farm equipment.

At that time in history, almost all had been raised to be thrifty. The war required that trait. We saved every scrap of tinfoil, kitchen fats, rubber in any form, metal, paper, copper, brass, and cotton rags. The second phase of supporting the war was ration stamps. Amazing that America could bear down, conserve and make do with the very minimum in order to support the troops.

Piloting a B-17

At times, it seemed to me that we were winning the war. At other times, it seemed we were losing. The number of young men and women in our community shrank each month. Eventually, the tide began to turn. Us young kids were not dwelling in the trenches anymore. We started flying bombers and taking off from aircraft carriers. I knew the old trench warfare was still going on, but the new air world was much more exciting.

My favorite World War II toy was a B-17 bomber with plastic propellers that spun in the wind. My personal air field was the coal pile we used as heating fuel. I could take a 2-by-4 wooden block, smooth out my make-believe airfield and land my B-17 no matter how bad it was shot up.

One windy day, my dad was walking by the coal airfield when a gust of wind spun the propellers and they made a buzz like a rattlesnake. I nearly lost my prized bomber to a big chunk of coal thrown at a high rate of speed by a startled dad.

Old combine mobilized in a boy’s battle

On the Trew farm during World War II, there was no shortage of fantasy. My favorite “fantasy machine” was a worn-out John Deere combine sitting in our row of abandoned machinery. Though rusty and discarded, this old machine was a throne for our play times. Its platform could be the operational deck of a submarine, a destroyer, an aircraft carrier, a landing vessel or anything else seen in the previous Saturday’s news reel.

The big handwheel on the platform could take my submarine down or up, turn a battleship, stabilize an aircraft carrier or land troops on Normandy shores. The overhead wheat bin made an excellent crow’s nest for a ship or an excellent spotter nest for a super-sniper who always happened to be me.

To open the hatch and crawl down into the threshing machine cylinder on a war mission was easy. The only problem was making adequate preparations for my “war dog,” a stub-tailed Collie that could really dodge the bullets as he followed along.

Just a matter of time

Although the war demanded every grain of wheat we could raise, the shortage of help was our biggest problem. Mother and Aunt Allie often had to drive tractors. I was only 8 to 12 years old at the time and my brother Don was four years younger. The two of us, Grandpa Charlie (76) and school chums of any age were brought into the harvest each year. At age 12, I became “boss” of some of the crews because Dad just could not cover all the bases at one time.

There was no doubt now that we could win; it was just a matter of time. Finally, the secret attack had been overcome. Those who started the war were being beat. The war ended with a finality that taught a lesson to the world that will never be forgotten. Some thought this end was too violent. To those who fought and died, the end was justified. All vowed America would never be caught unaware again.

As the last of our World War II heroes pass away, I can only wish that the young people of today’s world could taste the suffering and pain endured in my era of war time. No one of character or respect can diminish, dispel, argue or voice any complaint against Americans of the past for what they endured, suffered and died for. To do so is blasphemy.

My continued prayer that the majority of true Americans will listen, study the past and come to their senses. If ever there was a time to work and pray for change, now is the time. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email: delrutrew72@gmail.com.

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