Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My grandfather, Henry Fisher, was 10 years old at the time, so I dusted off my journalist cap and interviewed him about the world he lived in three-quarters of a century ago.
My Grandpa grew up on a ranch in Utopia, Texas — a small town about an hour and half west of San Antonio. December 7, 1941 fell on a Sunday, so their family was at church during the bombing…nothing was mentioned in the service that morning, as news traveled a lot slower back then. It wasn’t until the evening when his parents and grandparents listened to the radio just as they did on any other night that my grandfather discovered what had happened. For many people, the iconic moment of WWII was when President Roosevelt declared war, however the most vivid memory to my Grandpa was getting the LIFE magazine that featured the Pearl Harbor attacks. His Aunt Gladys worked as a school teacher in San Antonio and would drive home to Utopia on the weekends, bringing with her publications like LIFE that showcased what was happening across the Pacific and putting images to what had only been heard over the radio.
During World War II, my Grandpa says that he remembers the constant call for supporting the war effort: going to places like the movies and seeing newsreels, the barber shop displaying posters of patriotism and maps of battles. He recalls one particular radio announcement about a victory in the Pacific that caused his father, my “Papa Hen”, to throw his hat in the air out of celebration. Scrap metal drives and rationing — specifically sugar, gas, food, even shoes — were also a part of war life. Each family had a book of rations that was required to purchase everyday items, however my Grandpa and his siblings were not too deprived, as they were able to raise much of their own food on the ranch.
All in all, my grandfather evokes living a sheltered youth. I often draw parallels between my own childhood and those of my grandparents, as we were the same age during the Pearl Harbor and September 11th attacks. In 2001, the world immediately was informed of our nation’s tragedy, and any hope of maintaining complete childhood innocence was lost. But my parents managed to shield me from the great horrors that day bore and provided a safe and loving home, just as my great-grandparents did for him.
The world is still a very scary place 75 years later, which is why I had to ask my Grandpa what he thought of our America nowadays. He said that yes, our country was incredibly unified back then, but there were still groups who were against the war effort. We’ve had problems and divisiveness before…set backs that seemed insurmountable. (He used the perfect example of Woodrow Wilson’s failed League of Nations in response to World War I.) If events ever arose like Pearl Harbor, he attests the country would rise to the occasion and unite because our fundamental beliefs still stand true.
I forget sometimes that America has overcome so much already; as a young person, I find myself with tunnel vision of only the present. Even as a natural optimist, it’s difficult to look outside of today because there are so many reasons to be concerned and distressed. But don’t take it from me — listen to a man who’s seen America at its best and its worst, and thank God for the servicemen and women who have given their lives to protect this great nation, even in her darkest times.