George Allen sat on a stool, peeling potatoes. It was a clear-blue Sunday sky in Hawaii and the 19-year-old Army private had kitchen duty.
He looked up from his work and saw dots in the sky. They looked like geese, maybe a lot of geese, but no different from the flocks that swooped across the sky of his far-off hometown of Portland, Maine.
Four months into his Army service, Allen, who now lives in Cleveland, Tenn., was happy to be at Schofield Barracks near Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The warm tropical island was just where he told his drill sergeants he wanted to be after growing up in the Northeast and sleeping on frozen ground in his early Army training.
Turning back to his potatoes, Allen bent down to shave the skin off one in his hand and didn't look up again until he heard a buzzing sound.
"The Jap Zero comes flying around the building. He has his canopy pulled back, his right arm sitting on the side of his cockpit. He lets go of a burst that hit just over our heads," he said.
"We were lucky we had only the short stools that morning," said Allen, 89. "If we'd had a regular stool, where you sit up two feet, he would have nailed us."
ABOUT THE ATTACK
At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the first of two waves of Japanese planes began dropping bombs on Pearl Harbor. The United States declared war on Japan the next day.
* 21 U.S. ships sank
* 360 aircraft destroyed or damaged
* 2,403 American service members killed
* 1,178 military personnel and civilians wounded
Source: Department of Defense
Monday, Dec. 8, 1941 Chattanooga Daily Times:
"All else was forgotten or momentarily brushed aside in Chattanooga yesterday afternoon as news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Honolulu flashed through the city.
"Thousands of Chattanoogans, spending a quiet afternoon in their warm homes after noon-day Sunday meals, listened with astonishment as radio announcers broke into musical programs to announce the surprise attack by the Japanese government.
"Policemen in squad cars, firemen, street car motormen, bus drivers and the man on the street wondered how the United States was fighting back.
"News of the air attack on the Pacific outposts reached Chattanooga exactly five minutes after the first bombs fell.
"By telephone, word of mouth and wisps of overheard conversation, the staggering development became known over almost the entire city within an hour."
-- Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press archives
Allen ran inside the barracks, meeting other soldiers who were yelling for their rifles and heading for the supply sergeant who had the armory keys. But the man said he couldn't hand out weapons until the commanding officer gave the order.
Soldiers on the nearby parade field dodged bullets whizzing from Japanese planes. The thunderous boom of torpedoes and bombs striking ships in the harbor shook the ground around the barracks at least a mile away, Allen said.
In Chattanooga, within minutes of the attack, a news machine relaying telegraphed reports from across the globe started to spit out a report down the hall from where 18-year-old Central High School student Luther Masingill had just finished handling a local pastor's radio announcements.
"It was just an ordinary Sunday broadcast," Masingill, 89, recalled in a recent interview. "I heard the news machine 'ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.'"
The more dings, the bigger the news.
Masingill tore the sheet from the machine, walked back down the hall of the Volunteer Building headquarters of WDEF-AM radio station and sat down in front of the microphone to read the news.
"The Japanese have attacked the island, our military installation in Oahu, known also as Pearl Harbor," Masingill said.
His words told the tidbits of what was known -- Japanese planes had bombed troops and ships at Pearl Harbor, a naval station few citizens knew existed.
The attacks didn't mean much to the teenager then, but more bulletins flew in, reporting further damage and death.
"It became evident it was the big story not only of that day but the whole year, the whole century," Masingill said.
The message had arrived at the end of Masingill's Sunday shift. He walked around downtown to the sight of people clustered on corners, newsboys shouting "Extra! Extra!" as they handed out special editions of the Chattanooga Daily Times and Chattanooga News-Free Press.
The News-Free Press front-page headline of its War Edition declared:
"Japs Say 2 U.S. War Ships Sunk
Eight Others Badly Damaged In
Sunday Attacks on Pearl Harbor"
In the following days, news of the attacks continued to fill the front pages.
An estimated 800 U.S. Army soldiers with the 125th Infantry out of Camp Forrest near Tullahoma, Tenn., moved into Jackson Park and spread out across Hamilton County to guard power stations, railroads, the Chickamauga Dam and Tennessee Valley Authority installations.
Government officials shut down amateur radio across the country, an apparent effort to squelch any chatter about stateside military bases or unit movements.
"They kept some air units on duty too for fear of something flown over the city," Masingill said.
The United States declared war on Japan one day after the attacks.
The Dec. 8, 1941, edition of the News-Free Press had a photograph of Elmo Stanfield, of Chattanooga; Clarence Brown, of Jasper, Tenn.; and William E. Edwards, of Rock Spring, Ga., at the U.S. Navy recruiting center, ready to join the service.
The Daily Times front-page headline recounted the president's recent speech:
"Roosevelt Predicts Final U.S. Victory,
But Says Nation Faces Long, Hard War;
Japanese land on Luzon, in Philippines"
Allen's unit would be sent into the jungle hills of Hawaii to dig in artillery and await an expected land assault of Japanese forces for months. He would see fighting across the Pacific Ocean and in the Philippines. He would next see home nearly four years later at the end of the war.
Masingill finished high school and was drafted into the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He later translated Morse code communications during battles on some of the same islands where Allen fought. When he left the service, Masingill returned to WDEF-AM, where he still reads on-air announcements.
Seventy years have passed since that infamous day. Memories of that attack and the next four years of fighting are seared into the minds of these two men and their generation.
"I'll forget your name by the time you walk out the door, but if you ask me when that plane come over that morning I can tell you," Allen said. "I can see the Jap pilot with the big damn goggles he had."
As veterans of World War II die each year, Allen and Masingill each said they hope that people understand how the attacks and war shaped the country and its citizens.
"There's not many of us left," Masingill said.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...
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