Elgin remembers Pearl Harbor

News of Pearl Harbor attack left Elgin confused, fearful

  • Helen Childs sits in front of a picture of Elgin's Crocker Theater and ads for shows that were playing on Dec. 7, 1941. Childs and her husband, George, had just left the theater when they heard the news that Pearl Harbor was attacked.

    Helen Childs sits in front of a picture of Elgin's Crocker Theater and ads for shows that were playing on Dec. 7, 1941. Childs and her husband, George, had just left the theater when they heard the news that Pearl Harbor was attacked. Courtesy of Jerry Turnquist

  • Helen and George Childs in an early 1940s photo. George enlisted in the Army after the Pearl Harbor attack. A lifelong resident of Elgin, he passed away in 2008.

    Helen and George Childs in an early 1940s photo. George enlisted in the Army after the Pearl Harbor attack. A lifelong resident of Elgin, he passed away in 2008. Courtesy of Helen Childs

 
Posted12/7/2016 6:00 AM

December 7, 1941, dawned like any other Sunday in Elgin. Services took place in the city's 40 churches, while many made their way in the afternoon to a popular art exhibit of black-and-white prints by Chicago artists at the Sears Art Gallery at the Elgin Academy.

Shopping was underway in downtown Elgin, with plainclothes men and women officers on the lookout for shoplifters. Decorating of homes with holiday lights was spurred on by a contest offering $100 in prizes from the Elgin Businessmen Association.

 

Residents were no doubt pleased with news from the day before from the city's health department that, for the first time in weeks, there were no reported cases of scarlet fever, diphtheria and polio -- though there were 41 cases of chickenpox and 15 of whooping cough.

A bit disappointing, however, was a loss the previous night by the Elgin High School basketball team to Morton High School.

All that changed in the early afternoon when news of the attack by the Empire of Japan reached Elgin. Most heard the news by radio -- some while listening to the Chicago Bears game -- and quickly relayed it to others.

It was a day those who were alive at the time say they will never forget. A few readers shared their memories of the day -- where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt when they heard the dramatic news.

It was news that would plunge the United States into World War II and change the lives of the nation and the world forever.

Bad news shakes young couple

"My husband George and I had just come back home from the movies in downtown Elgin. We turned on the radio and heard the news. It was most distressing. I didn't really comprehend what it meant at the time.

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I also didn't realize how big and terrible the war would become. My husband went into the service later and was set to take part in the invasion of Japan when news of the atomic bomb came, ending the war. It probably saved his life."

Helen Childs, Elgin

Why Japan and not Germany?

"I was 16 years old at the time. Our family had just come home from the Sunday service at First Congregational Church, where I am still a member. My parents had just put on the radio when the news came on about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

We were baffled and couldn't really believe we were hearing this. I'd read about Japan in a Weekly Reader publication at school. If we did go to war, many thought it would be with Germany."

Maurie Munch, Elgin

Through a child's eyes

"As my family was gathered around our radio, we were told that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Through a child's eyes, I didn't quite comprehend all of it. I was 9 years old and I remember I was scared. I latched on to every word my father was saying about this terrible news. When he said, my older brother Bob 'will probably have to go and serve,' I wondered what that meant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The next day we were released early from Sheridan School (now Ron O'Neal Elementary). Mrs. Lorraine Zenk, who was my teacher at the time, was crying. That was another scary memory. I wonder how the newspaper would write up this news? Would they have a big 'W' on the first Page, an 'A' on the second, etc."

Ellen Weidner, Elgin

Future Marine contemplates war

"I was 14 years old and was with my family enjoying a reunion at my grandparents' home in Woodstock. All the men were listening to the radio in the living room and all the women were in the kitchen -- a typical family arrangement.

I remember the animated discussion. My dad was stunned into silence and added that the Japanese couldn't hold out long and it would end quickly. Four years later, I arrived in Hawaii as bow gunner on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) loading Marines for a horrendous invasion of a desperate Japan.

I understood my dad's thinking and how he was horrified by mankind's eternal instincts toward war -- wondering what it was all about."

Chick Peterson, Ephraim, Wisconsin

Reflections of a high school president

"I clearly remember being in the living room at our home on the corner of St. Charles and Bent streets with my parents. The radio was on and I was reading the funny papers. I remember putting the paper down and the three of us stared at one another in silence as we listened to the news report.

I also remember hearing Roosevelt's famous 'Infamy' speech the next day. I was a senior at Elgin High School and was the president of the Class 1942. I was appointed to the Navy Academy at Annapolis, but didn't pass the color blind test. I joined the Army and went to Fort Polk and became the bugler."

Bob Thoren, Elgin

Confused by mother's tears

"I was a student at Elgin High School and lived in Wayne at the time. My friends and I had been out sledding and came back into the house. There was a lot of snow that year. My mother, who had been ironing, was crying when we came in. She told us that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. As children, we didn't really understand what that meant."

Nancy Pratt Hill, Elgin

Work day ends early

"I was nine years old at the time. My father was the general manager of a dairy plant in Melrose Park and my mother and I had gone with him to the business to get ready for the next week.

My job was to wash the bumpers and wheels of the trucks. The radio had been playing and then it suddenly stopped and it was announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

As a 9-year-old, I did not know where Pearl Harbor was or why all the people were getting so excited. All work just ended and everyone was talking and sharing their ideas of what they had just heard. They decided to go to the home of an employee in Elmhurst, where they continued listening to the radio. They took many smoke breaks on the rear porch as they talked about going to war with Japan."

Aubrey Neville, Elgin

'Well, we're going into it'

"On December 7, 1941, we lived in an apartment at the corner of Brook and Cherry streets in Elgin. My father had bought a copy of the Sunday newspaper. Since we had not gone to church that day, I was reading it. My father was listening to the radio, and I remember him saying, 'Well, we're into it.'

The next day all the teachers at Wing School gathered us in the eighth-grade classroom since it had a radio. They wanted us all to hear President Roosevelt's address to Congress, during which he called the day one which 'will live in infamy' and added that 'a state of war exists between us and the Empire of Japan.'"

James H. Anderson, Elgin

• Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin history. Send comments, questions and suggestions to IBeMrT@aol.com.

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