I was watching ‘The Wizard of Oz” sixty-nine years ago with my parents at the Rogue Picture Show in Wheeler, Texas, a sleepy little village in the Panhandle. Right in the middle of the show, the lights came on. Mr. Guthrie, the theater owner, climbed up on the stage and announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
Most of the audience just looked at each other, not knowing what he was talking about. What’s a Pearl Harbor, some asked. As he went on to explain what had taken place, their puzzlement turned to disbelief and shock. But, all it meant to a five-year-old boy was that the Dorothy and Toto movie had stopped and the cartoon wouldn’t play.
I had no way of knowing then that date marked the end of U.S. isolationism; that from then on, my world and that of those about me would forever be changed.
Back then, most folks remained in close proximity to the their birthplace, so there was always a family gathering for holidays and other special occasions.
That night, the family gathered at my aunt’s next door.
We kids had no idea of the grownups’ concern.
Over the next few days, I came to realize things had changed. There was a different mood at home, in town, at school.
Then a couple uncles shipped out.
I came in from play a few days later and Mom was crying. I remember how she hugged me and said from then on, I’d have to be the man of the house. I had no idea what she was talking about.
The next day or maybe the next, Papa and Mama Conwell stopped at the house, and we all loaded into his 1940 Chevrolet.
We headed to Shamrock and the train station.
We stayed home while Dad went through boot camp on the east coast, Norfolk, Virginia, if I remember right.
When Dad returned, he then headed for California, and he took us with him. That was the beginning of two or three years of constant moving. From there Albuquerque, then Hutchinson, Kansas, and then overseas.
We stayed in Wheeler.
I don’t figure I’ll ever again witness the degree of dynamic energy created by the unified drive and motivation of the American populace supporting our country in those years. We were a juggernaut of determination and purpose.
Just about everything was rationed. Victory gardens were a way of life. Kids roamed the neighborhoods in paper drives. Farmers hauled in rusted and broken implements that would be melted down into war weapons.
If you lived back then, you remember how it was. I don’t know what percentage, but I’d guess three-quarters of everything went to support the war.
Soft drinks for example were next to impossible to find.
Once on the way to California, we stopped at a station in the middle of Arizona. My uncle and I went inside and in soft drink box, found a lone Seven-Up.
We drank it. When we went to pay, the owner exploded. He had brought that over forty miles so he could enjoy it himself.
That was how the rationing was.
I’m sure folks complained back then, but can you imagine the tenor of their complaints if called upon for such sacrifices today?
Women were taking over jobs men had once held, doing as competent and often better work.
America buzzed with the ‘can do’ and ‘never quit’ spirit, and that bulldog determination is what brought our country its greatest victory.
Times change. Today we’re facing an enemy we can’t eradicate with an atomic bomb. To me that makes it doubly dangerous, much more costly, and a battle that might never fully be won.
I hate to think the last eight or ten years being perpetuated decades into the life of my children and grandchildren.
I might be wrong, but I feel in the years to come 9/11 will prove to be as significant, and maybe arguably more so, than Pearl Harbor.