Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day of Infamy

“December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Jimbo in the Calumet Regional Archives; Post-Trib photo by Jim Karczewski

It’s always interesting (and sometimes a little scary) to discover what quotes reporters use after interviewing you. Nancy Webster’s front page Post-Trib article on remembering Pearl Harbor on the seventy-fifth anniversary of that momentous event began by noting the dwindling number of survivors –that’s probably why she spoke with me and Gary historian John Trafny rather than World War II vets who had been there.  Trafny told Nancy Webster that his father was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Oahu when Japanese planes attacked. Trafny said, Steve was on his way to the mess hall — he thought one of the stoves exploded. Then he saw the Rising Sun (the Japanese emblem) on the side of the plane.”  Webster added: “According to the family story, Trafny’s Aunt Veronica wrote a letter to President Roosevelt asking what happened to her brother. The letter was forwarded to the Red Cross and then on to Steve Trafny's colonel, who ordered the young man to sit down in his presence and write his family a letter to let them know he was alive.”

Here are statements of mine that appear in Webster’s piece;
* The interesting thing in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack — the government censored the showing of any images so as not to alarm people to the tremendous extent of the damage to our fleet. A lot was classified.
* Pearl Harbor will continue to be remembered [because] it brought home to Americans that the world is small and had come to a point where we could not be isolated from the world's problems.  It will be a big part of history, even if the celebrations of the veterans continue to tail off.
* [When I visited Hickam Air Force Base in 1965], there were still bullet marks on the buildings that had never been cleaned up. The idea was that it was a reminder to be vigilant, as part of the reason Pearl Harbor happened was because of the lack of vigilance by the military.
* When I was growing up, it was a badge of pride to have a family member in that war.
 Vic, Midge and Jimbo Lane, circa 1943

My parents were both 25 years old and living in Easton, Pennsylvania, on Pearl Harbor Day.  Midge was in her seventh month of pregnancy with me.  Because Vic was a chemist with a job considered vital to the war effort, he was deemed to be more valuable as a civilian than as a soldier.  Still, I believe part of him regretted not going off to war. For some of his friends going off to war was the adventure of their lives.
Don Wallace and Wendy Masters; NWI Times photos by Joyce Russell

The NWI Times cover story, “From Paradise to a War Zone” profiled Don Wallace of Portage, 84, and Wendy Masters of Valparaiso, 78, who were kids living near Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.  Wallace told reporter Joyce Russell: “I’ll always remember that first plane coming over.  If you had a rock, you could have thrown it and hit it.”  Masters recalled that her parents were convinced the Japanese would land troops and possibly poison the reservoir that provided their drinking water.  Russell also interviewed Lake Station history teacher Tom Clark (a former student of mine), who has on display in his classroom such wartime artifacts as Purple Hearts, servicemen’s letters, and items recovered from the USS Arizona, including spoons and a silver tray. Calling Pearl Harbor “that generation’s 9/11,” Clark described visiting the Battleship Arizona Memorial: “The theater blows you way.  Then you get on a launch to go to the Arizona memorial, which straddles over the ship and a wall with the names of all those killed.  You look at this, and you are just awed.”
 "Ghost Ship" interior before the fire

Dozens of young people perished in a warehouse fire in Oakland, California, located just a few miles from my friends Gaard and Chuck Logan. The property had not been inspected for over a decade.  The building, dubbed the “Ghost Ship” by artists who used it as a work space and crash pad, was a fire trap, with no sprinkler system and very few exits.  Due to the housing shortage and gentrification of former bohemian neighborhoods, warehouse communes have become increasingly common. It evidently was a happening place but a death trap with faulty wiring and other structural deficiencies.  The owner looks to be in serious trouble.  Some 30 years ago I stayed in a West Berlin warehouse with university students, thanks to a professor who knew my friend Sheila Hamanaka.

For a final exam review David Parnell put together a Jeopardy quiz with categories such as Popes and Kings, Places, Name that Crusade, Crusades Terminology, and “Kingdom of Heaven,” the 2005 film.  I pretty much stayed on the sidelines since most students were enthusiastically participating.  Some were extremely competitive, and David was quit adept at his duties as moderator and scorekeeper.   That afternoon none of the Jeopardy contestants knew what month (June) in 1944 D-Day (Operation Overlord) took place.
Mike Olszanski posted a 1986 photo of him with our late lamented poker buddy Fred Gaboury in East Berlin, an old, radical lumberjack.  Mutual friend Connie Mack-Ward wrote:
            Fred and I were at some event, sitting by each other and both smoking. I was holding our ash tray - there was no place to put it down while we were using it. Fred then offered to hold it, and I said, “No, that's OK, I'm fine.” Eager to be a gentleman, Fred crunched my fingers together until they were almost broken and took the ashtray out of my hand. He had no idea he was hurting me, of course.  I always let Fred perform his courtesies after that - I was afraid of being maimed by “The Frozen Logger.”

I picked up opatki packages at Nativity Church in Portage. Toni always sends one to her sister Mary, who has trouble finding it in Punta Gorda, Florida.  In Willard J. Dolman’s “Golden Memories and Silver Tears” (2000) – a nonfiction portrayal of a coal miner’s son growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania during the Great Depression -  is this description of an ethnic Christmas dinner practice:
  Jadek said the prayer before the meal and Babka distributed the opatki, a half sheet of this blessed unleavened bread to each adult and child. No one ate until the opatki ritual was first completed.  In this tradition each person shared his or her opatki with another person by breaking off a tiny piece of the other person’s opatki and saying something like, “I wish you health during the coming year.”
When the Lane household would do it for Wigilia (pronounced valia), a Polish Christmas Eve tradition, we’d exchange kisses as well as good wishes.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade” topped Rolling Stone’s Top 25 album list.  Also honored were the final efforts of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen as well as the Rolling Stones blues album and one by Parquet Court, who I saw live at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown, California.  On the singles list was Bob Dylan doing the Johnny Mercer classic “That Old Black magic” from his Frank Sinatra tribute album. The article states: The only guy this year to release a Frank Sinatra tribute album and win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan pays his respects to the Chairman of the Board, rasping a standard from the Johnny Mercer songbook and yet somehow bringing his own sense of menace to it.”

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