THE SADDEST DAY

Remembering Pearl Harbor and the U.P. men lost in the attack

The USS West Virginia and the USS Tennessee burn on Dec. 7, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo)

By Larry Chabot
The boy was on his way home from his favorite Sunday afternoon pastime: the matinee at the Ontonagon Theater. As he walked into the house on the Rockland Road, he saw his parents huddled by the radio, listening intently. Before he realized what was happening, he was sent to a neighbor’s home to wait …

It was December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attack on U.S. military facilities in Hawaii plunged the country into war. The boy was Bob Valley, and his brother Lowell was a sailor on a battleship at Pearl Harbor. All over the country, the Valleys and thousands of other families began the agonizing wait for word about their loved ones in Hawaii.
That was 77 years ago. In the weeks leading up to the attack, rampant rumors of war put Americans on edge. Some men were already fighting, like the 9,000 Americans in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the U.S., the military draft had just entered its second year, with thousands drilling in camps or on active duty. About 200,000 citizens were employed on defense jobs. Ontonagon kindergarten teacher Rita Powers and her husband left for the Philippines not long before the Japanese attacked that island chain. It’s not known if she survived the war.
On that fateful Sunday, just before Bob Valley began trudging up the hill, President Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House working on his huge postage stamp collection. Because the four Roosevelt sons were in uniform, the First Family shared the tenseness in American homes.
In Marquette, The Mining Journal noted that Robert Belmore had enlisted and was heading for training in Missouri. He was one of five Belmore boys in uniform during the war but was the only one who didn’t return, as he was killed in action in Alaska in 1944.
When the Pearl Harbor attack began at 12:55 p.m. Eastern Time, three pro football games were under way. In the New York and Chicago stadiums, public address announcements ordered all servicemen to return to their units. In Washington’s Griffith Stadium, high-ranking government and military personnel were paged or sought out where they sat, and reporters were asked to call their offices.
Lights burned late as people waited for news of relatives and friends. Those far from home included businessmen, government workers, missionaries, vacationers and others scattered across the Pacific.
Names began popping up in The Mining Journal. Calvin Libby, a Marquette sailor, survived the Pearl Harbor attack but died in action in 1943. Lawrence Hebbard of Ishpeming, a treasury official in the Philippines, made a three-minute call saying he was okay. Marvin Harkinson of Marquette, serving on the same ship as neighbor Eddy Hampton, wrote from Pearl Harbor that “I didn’t even get a scratch.” Harkinson was very tired, though, as spending four hours on and then four hours off guard duty meant getting little sleep. “I will be spending Christmas at sea on convoy duty for the first time. I’d like to tell you more but the censors are particular,” he wrote. He did add that Eddy Hampton was also safe.
Navy officer David McClintock of Marquette, who was at sea on December 7, sailed into devastated Pearl Harbor a few days later. Marquette’s Abbie Roberts wrote from California of the mass confusion there, with rumors and tempers flaring. Law enforcement was taking a hard line, she noted, even arresting a homeowner who left his lights on during a blackout. Dale Burley of Munising was mistakenly reported as killed in action but was actually safe and pulling guard duty in Hawaii. Erwin Mueller, a Humboldt resident for many years, and his brother John were twice reported killed at sea. Unaware that they were “dead,” they shocked their mother when they returned home from duty and she opened her door to find them standing there. “Hi, Mom, we’re home!” they beamed. Mom fainted.
Military recruiting offices were overwhelmed with applicants. Navy recruiter Carlton Olyer said, “One man was a 70-year-old resident of Marquette
who pleaded and asked if there was anything he could possibly do to help his country.” Standing in line waiting to enlist were eight boys aged 14. Most rejections were over 35. Of 24 potential enlistees interviewed in one office, ten were too old, three were married, and eight had bad eyesight. Some applicants were World War One veterans. Large groups boarding trains for recruitment centers were sent off with parades and speeches, but many returned quietly after failing the physical exam (they were often accepted later when standards were lowered).
The first damage and fatality reports from Hawaii were wildly inaccurate. It was December 16 before the first true numbers appeared in The Mining Journal, and two days later the paper began running pictures of the carnage. Over 100 Marquette citizens volunteered for the Civil Defense Corps. Then the bans began: no more weather reports, no names of fatalities, no new tires for the public, no more mail delivery to Japan or Germany (which also declared war on the U.S.).
As security tightened, especially in sensitive areas, there were some ugly incidents. In Detroit, 20-year-old Beverly Mastin was shot in the shoulder by a state trooper when the car she was in failed to stop on command. It was the second shooting incident that week. Governor Murray Van Wagoner warned people to stay away from those sites, saying the trooper was only doing his duty. “This is serious; they are not fooling,” he added.
Over 2,400 people died at Pearl Harbor, including 11 from the U.P. Western Union was chosen to deliver the bad-news telegrams; families feared the sounds of a car door slam and footsteps on the porch that often meant bad news.

We pause for a moment of remembrance for these first U.P. fatalities:
Manfred Anderson and Gerald Lehman of Hancock, Kenneth Cooper and Donald Clash of Iron Mountain (Clash’s brother James was killed in Germany 1945), Francis Cychosz of Bessemer (his brother Raymond was seriously wounded in Italy), William Finnegan of Dollar Bay (father of five), Francis McGuire of Wallace (who had four brothers in service), Herman Reuss of Menominee, Robert Spreeman of Newberry, Lowell Valley of Ontonagon and Joseph Baraga of Channing. A twelfth man, Robert Thomas of Ironwood, was lost in the Philippines that day.
In Alaska, Evelyn Cooper Stebbins awaited news on her brother Ken Cooper of Iron Mountain, who was killed in the attack. In Hancock, Jerry Lehman’s family was alarmed when his Christmas package came back “unclaimed.” They begged him to write if he could or have someone else write if he couldn’t. He never did.
Bob Valley said his family kept hopes alive for several months. There were cruel rumors that his brother Lowell had been seen here or there. His parents wrote to Congressman John Bennett and Victor Knox asking for information on Lowell’s fate, without success. On brother Bob’s birthday, the death news was delivered to the house on the Rockland Road. He still has the telegram.
By year’s end, six other U.P. men had died in the war: John Juknis of Ontonagon, Joseph Fitzpatrick of McMillan, Erick Aho of Bessemer, Andrew Saari of Negaunee, Donald Oley of Silver City, and Leonard Almquist, a Marquette native in the Canadian Air Force. One of every seven Americans was in uniform at some point during World War Two. In the U.P., approximately 46,000 answered the call, and over 1,500 died.
The number of people who are old enough to remember Pearl Harbor is shrinking daily, and so we must remember for them…

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