Remembering Another December Morning

Remembering Another December Morning

Area residents recall the stories of Pearl Harbor, 66 years later.


Betty Kenealy, here with her husband William, was an elementary school student living on Pearl Harbor when it was attacked in December 1941.


Jack Rue had only been in the Army Reserve Corps a year when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941. His one-year enlistment was extended to five years of service, both in Maryland and Europe.

It was just another Sunday morning for Elizabeth Ann and her four brothers and sisters, walking to the beach with their father before church while their mother cared for the new baby.

"My father would take us out to the beach quite often to watch the planes come in and take off," she said from the living room of her Springfield home. "I remember very clearly we didn’t want to leave the beach that morning, but it was almost time to go home so Father could shave or finish getting ready before 8:30 mass."

So the family walked home, and a short time later, they were cramming everything they could into their cars to escape the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Betty Kenealy, as she’s now known, had moved with her family to Hawaii in January 1941 from Portland, Ore., a change she did not like at the time. She quickly grew to love the beaches of Hawaii, where two of her brothers still live.

The beach where Kenealy had stood was later "machine gunned" by Japanese planes, she recalled, during the second wave of attacks after the naval base was destroyed. While her father was not in the military, as a contractor for the Navy, they lived in naval housing, which was also destroyed in gunfire later.

Kenealy said her father told them later he had noticed the Japanese flag, a large red circle centered in white, on the side of some planes earlier that morning. It was common knowledge in Pearl Harbor at the time that the Japanese wanted to claim ownership of Hawaii, she said, so while the attack was unexpected, it was not a complete surprise.

Immediately, the family packed up and drove across the island to a friend’s home 30 minutes away. The island was put under martial law, the only time in U.S. history the military had governance over residents.

LIKE OTHER places in the country, Hawaii was subjected to blackouts nightly and air raid drills, but Kenealy said she and her friends grew accustomed to wearing gas masks in shoulder bags everywhere they went.

"I was an air raid warden in my school," she said, smiling as she remembered a role many children had to play during World War II.

Kenealy said her mother considered sending her two oldest children to their grandparents’ home in Oregon, but decided to keep the family together.

Schools were closed for several months, she said, and her father’s steel working job, initially a one-year contract, lasted for at least five years.

She remembers seeing internment camps on the island, filled with Italian soldiers.

"Those soldiers actually built a beautiful chapel while they were there, and it’s still standing on the way to Oahu," she said.

IN VIRGINIA, Jack Rue was returning from tank training maneuvers, preparing for an overnight stay on the fields at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg when he heard of the attack on his transistor radio.

Rue had only expected to serve in the National Guard a short time. "When I heard about the attack, I knew I wasn’t going home any time soon," Rue said. "Everybody was excited and worried when we heard the news."

Rue had signed up for the service a year earlier, when it appeared the U.S. would enter the war soon. Once Pearl Harbor was attacked, he served more than a decade, both along Maryland’s shore and overseas, arriving in Normandy just after D-Day, June 6, 1944.

For most of his military career, Rue patrolled the sand dunes along the Maryland coast, driving large, heavy trucks that could be used to evacuate people if another attack occurred along the East Coast.

"We kept watch for submarines off the coast, just in case the Japanese decided to attack us that way," he said.

He and his fellow soldiers also kept vigilant during blackouts, making sure no light could be seen from any windows or homes.

"Even the Jeeps we drove, we had to cover the headlights," Rue said. "We only had little pinholes cut out so we could see the truck in front of us at night."

Still, life in the National Guard was not all bad for Rue, who twice lived near churches filled with nuns who baked cakes, cookies and other treats for the servicemen.

As a boy, Rue expected that he would take over his father’s printing business when he completed school. Rue said he was never too fond of that idea, and the war provided an escape and an excuse.

"Because everything was so scarce during the war, my father had to shut down his printing business because there wasn’t any paper or ink available," he said.

IN THE SMALL town of Mart, Texas, the war literally came home when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Bill Reynolds was a senior in high school at the time and remembers hearing a broadcast of President Franklin Roosevelt’s speech announcing the attack the day after it happened during a school assembly.

"That speech and the way he gave it were unforgettable," Reynolds said. "I remember going home that night and talking with my family about it, how impressive he was and how important the school superintendent made the occasion."

The following week, during a church service, Reynolds and the other young men and women in his youth group were taken outside.

"We were told that a boy from our town, who had dropped out of school a year earlier to join the Navy, had been on the Arizona at the time and was killed," Reynolds said.

The Arizona was sunk during the attack, and all the men on board were drowned. The ship still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and had become a memorial for the attack and those who died there.

"George Fowler was not a member of our church, but it was such a small town that we all knew him," he said. "We all stood outside, under the stars for some reason, and held hands and prayed for him."

Reynolds decided to join the Navy after completing high school with the hopes of being a minister to soldiers during the war. Instead, he earned a pharmacy degree and became a Methodist minister after completing his enlistment.

"I wanted to pastor to the men who had served in the war, but I also felt I should do my part because it was only right," he said.

Reynolds served in the Pacific theater of the war for three years before returning home.

"My parents had to sign a waiver to let me join because I was only 17 at the time," he said. "When my own son wanted to join the Army during Vietnam and asked me to sign the same waiver, I called my mother to ask her how she could have done the same for me, it was so hard."

FOR BOBBI ASHTON, the attack on Pearl Harbor did not frighten her in the way it did most people.

"I was 10-years-old at the time and I didn’t understand much about war," she said. "But when I came downstairs and saw my mother crying, I knew things were bad."

Ashton said her mother was the kind of woman who believed in staying calm and strong for the sake of her children, even after the death of their father a few years earlier. Seeing tears streaming down her face the day after the attack was the first time Ashton had ever seen her mother cry.

"I remember asking her what was wrong, and she said that all our dear boys were going to die," Ashton recalled.

Her stepfather worked for Goodyear Tires, and the family eventually relocated from Akron, Ohio to Lincoln, Neb. for his job. Like all families, they had to ration all their food and supplies like paper, tin foil and gasoline, but because of his "essential" job, the family was never in danger of going hungry or running out of gasoline.

"My mother once dropped her books of ration stamps for our family, and the next day a farmer called her to say he had them and would hold onto them for her," Ashton said. "The farmer said he would bring them to her, but he didn’t have enough gas to drive into town and back to his farm, so my mother had to go get them."

Her other strong memory of the war involves going to the movies and seeing numerous movies of German soldiers, goose-stepping in long parade lines.

"We saw film after film of tanks on the newsreels they played before movies," she said. "That terrified me because everything was so rigid."

Ashton also remembers sitting on their living room floor with skeins of khaki yarn on her arms, holding them still while her mother knitted socks, scarves and hats for soldiers in the war.

"Once a week she’d take her sewing machine down to city hall to help make bandages," she said. "My mother was doing her part to help the war effort before Pearl Harbor ever happened."

Although their stories are very different, all four believe the United States is still vulnerable to a surprise attack like the one at Pearl Harbor, or more recently in New York and at the Pentagon. Vigilant security, constant watchfulness and preparation for what might be may not prevent another attack, they said, but it may make planning one a little more difficult.

"I think now, we’re more likely to be attacked by a suicide bomber or car bombs than by plane," Ashton said. "How many people would have to be involved to know what’s going on where at any given time? We’ve got an awfully big country with awfully wide borders."

Reynolds said learning from history is the only way to understand how attacks like these happen.

"We need to realize how vulnerable we are to better defend against an enemy," he said. "In this day and time, we need to realize the enemy will hurt us again if they can. It’s the element of surprise that can make things so deadly."

William Kenealy, Betty’s husband, said if an enemy were dedicated enough, they would have the patience needed to plan a detailed attack years before it happens.

"The attacks [of 1941 and 2001] were planned slowly and carefully over many years," he said. "They both turned out to be awfully successful. America is very open and if someone wanted to do something, they could."

Betty Kenealy is a little more optimistic than her husband of 52 years.

"I really hope we’re safer now," she said.