Seventy-five years ago today, the world changed drastically.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would pull America into a war we were not ready to fight.
It was the turning point of the twentieth century, and some people from Northern Michigan were there.
For other local veterans, the war that began that day set their lives on a very different course.
We meet some of them in this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.
"It kinda scares you because here you are and KABOOM, and you’re standing there and you don’t know where to go and what to do and here, all of a sudden, here’s a plane coming in and strafing,” says Harvey Rowland.
Harvey lives in Grayling now. Seventy-five years ago on December 7, he was in the Army Air Corps, 19 years old and stationed in Hawaii, literally letting his guard down.
Harvey was on guard duty that early Sunday morning, giving someone directions to church when…
"I look up and saw these groups of airplanes coming in and I said to the guy with me, ‘Oh, here comes the Navy again’, and we were just standing there in the middle of the road watching them and they come towards us and swung around and come over our hangars,” says Harvey. “I said these crazy guys don’t know what’s going on, and they tipped their wing to drop the bomb and as they tipped it I said, ‘Holy cripes! That’s not the Navy, that’s the Japanese look at that sun.’ And just as I said that boom! He dropped his bomb and it hit next to the gas dump right in the middle of the road. That was the first bomb, as far as I know. I still feel that was the first one dropped.”
Likely the first bomb dropped on Americans in World War II.
Over in the harbor, Tom Child was an officer on a destroyer, hit by the Japanese. He survived, jumped to a PT boat, and started doing anything he could to help during the attack.
“I asked, ‘Can I go with ya?’ The officer said just a minute. He asked what I could do. He said my torpedo man, I can’t find him, so I got to go with them. Turns out I was the only replacement person that stepped aboard the day of the war,” says Tom.
You didn’t have to be at Pearl Harbor for the attack to change your life. In 1944 a young Earl Cadmus joined the Navy, and was headed toward Japan for what would be a very difficult invasion.
“It was a scary time, because it was a scarier time when we were going over headed for Japan. And we knew what we were going to look for in Japan ‘cause they was all ready for us. Until they had the A bomb dropped on them and when that second one hit, they didn’t want any more of it,” explains Earl.
It would have been his job to help end what started at Pearl Harbor.
“We were all young guys going in. We would’ve all been old guys if we got over to Japan, cause they were ready for us.
Two time bronze start recipient Charles Lewis manned artillery on the west coast when Pearl Harbor was hit.
“We were on high alert, at all times. Day and night, high alert. Prepared in case of an invasion of the U.S. Anyplace up and down the coast, we’d be ready for them,” says Charles.
That never happened, but Charles went on to the Battle of the Bulge.
“I went through it as a machine gunner. A machine gunner’s life was just a matter of minutes in combat,” explains Charles.
When he thinks back on Pearl Harbor, he says America learned a hard lesson.
“Be prepared. The most the U.S. could be at any time is be prepared. You never know what the next round of ammunition or the next time something is going to be happening. Being prepared makes a big difference. Be ready,” says Charles.
Earl says, “We had a lot of ships over there, but they weren’t armed. They weren’t armed for it yet. We didn’t figure on we was going to have a big war going on, but we did.”
Charles says, “I’m glad it’s all over with and turned out as good as it did. That’s the main thing. At least we know we got someplace that is safe to live.”