Fayette County

In their own words: Kentuckians remember Pearl Harbor

Dr. Peter P. Bosomworth, Lexington

I was 11 years old, and I was with my parents and brother, listening to the evening news, when the attack on Pearl Harbor was reported on Sunday, December 7, 1941.

My parents had moved to Akron, Ohio, from England in 1929. My father had been hired by Harvey Firestone as chief of engineering, research and development for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. One of his early responsibilities was to design and build a radio station with worldwide transmission capabilities.

Firestone was already supplying war material to U.S. allies in Europe. The Transatlantic radio let U.S. Navy officers attached to Firestone transmit and receive needed information to and from Europe via Liberia.

My service in the war was making brass plugs for military use in inflatable life rafts. My father taught my brother (age 10) and me (age 12) to use his lathe. We were paid two cents for each one. Mother was the quality control. We made thousands, and the money we made went to buy war bonds. I cashed mine in when I went to college.

My family followed the course of the war by reading the Akron Beacon Journal. I thought at the time that World War II would be the last of all major wars for the United States of America.

J. Hunt Perkins, Lexington

On that Sunday morning, I rose early to deliver newspapers on my paper route in Williamsburg, Ky. I was only 9 years of age but, after my father died unexpectedly at age 41, I had begun to deliver the daily newspaper to ease my mother's financial burden of supporting my two older brothers and me.

After attending Sunday school and church that Sunday morning, my family gathered at the home of my paternal grandfather, along with my uncles, aunts and cousins, for our usual Sunday dinner together. As was customary after dinner, the radio was turned on to listen to the Sunday news broadcast. Suddenly, an announcer interrupted the regular news broadcast with the sad and startling news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the resulting devastation. ...

Shortly after that radio news report, I received a phone call from the newspaper office to tell me that an extra edition of the newspaper would be ready for delivery later that afternoon. So, near dusk that afternoon, I began delivering newspapers to customers on my paper route to inform them of that fateful Sunday. ...

Much to the credit of the average American citizen, every person sacrificed in their own way during the ensuing four years to help secure final victory in World War II. Boy Scouts collected newspapers for recycling, bandages were rolled at National Guard armories for shipment to the war front, fuel and tires were rationed, and a multitude of other sacrifices were made.

David R. Hereford, Prestonsburg

Dec. 7, 1941, was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon in Prestonsburg, Ky. I was eight years old. My dad and I were walking through a field close to my granddad's farm, hoping to see if grouse had repopulated the field. A neighbor, Judge Ed Hill, called to us and told us that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor that morning. He had heard it on the radio. Our town was so upset because we didn't know what would happen next, but we knew America would be at war.

The horror of war came early to Prestonsburg, as we learned that a local man, Walter K. Bowling, was on the USS Arizona. Walter was a boyhood friend of my dad. Soon, family members and friends were called to serve in the armed services. My dad was in the Navy.

Our local Veterans of Foreign War Post is named in honor of Walter K. Bowling.

W. Lynn Nickell, West Liberty

In 1941, I was 13 years old and received my first knowledge of war. On Dec. 7, 1941, a Sunday afternoon, I was at the movies in the old Rex Theatre in West Liberty. When the movie was over, a group of us were walking up Main Street, and some more young people were standing in front of the drug store, a favorite loafing place, and told us about Japan bombing Pearl Harbor.

I knew where Japan was but had never heard of Pearl Harbor. We walked over to the Nickell and Spencer Clinic, across from Main Street, and listened to the radio in the waiting room, which Dr. Harold Nickell had opened for people to come in and listen to the news. One of the boys in our group was Lawrence Nickell, who later was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. Dr. Harold Nickell, his brother, served as a captain and was also in the Battle of the Bulge.

At school the next day, all the 17- and 18-year-olds were talking of joining some branch of service. Patriotism was rampant, and everyone wanted to get revenge on the Japanese. The 17- and 18-year-old boys were the envy of all the other boys.

I was in the high school band at the time the war began and played a drum. We had a bass-horn player by the name of Robert Adams. Robert was a senior in high school in 1941-42. Some of the older boys joined up, and some were drafted before they finished their senior year. Robert finished the school year and joined the Army and was placed in the 101st Airborne Division, the paratroopers.

As the boys left for the services, a special bus from the J.C. Wells Bus Lines from Morehead would leave the bus station, and a large crowd would see them off. Some would bring coffee and doughnuts. It was something that a young boy would never forget. In my mind, I can still see a boy standing in the doorway of a store building, the most private place he could find on Main Street to tell his girlfriend goodbye. He would finally kiss her, and she would begin to cry. I remember a mother and father standing with their son, telling him goodbye, and the mother sobbing, and the father, wearing overalls, trying to be brave and not show emotion. But I could see the tears in his eyes.

I remember how jubilant the young men were and listened to their cries from the bus: "Just wait till we get there; we'll have the war over in no time," and "Japan, here we come!"

There were American flags flying everywhere and, in most homes, there was a white banner with a red star for every member of the family in the service. Later, a lot of those banners were replaced with ones edged in black. ...

When school started for the 1942-43 school year, I was a sophomore in high school and was still playing a drum as I did the year before. That fall, the boys started coming back but, this time, in flag-draped coffins with an honor guard. This is why I can remember Robert Adams so well. He was the first one I can remember coming back in a coffin and with an honor guard.

After Robert, there were others to follow. When a soldier was brought back to be buried, the drummers in the high school band were given military uniforms to wear and were to play the Death March while the color guard and the hearse moved through the town to the cemetery. If the cemetery was out of town, the drummers and color guard would stop at the end of the street. In town, we would march to the cemetery. Robert was the first one I played for.

For the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Herald-Leader asked readers to share their memories of Dec. 7, 1941. Dozens of you sent us letters or email messages with your stories of that day. Here is a sampling of those letters. More will appear in the newspaper between today and Wednesday, and on Kentucky.com.

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