By Thomas F. Schwartz
December 7, 1941 was, as President Franklin Roosevelt aptly stated: “a date which will live in infamy.” The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese plunged America into World War II. At the time of the attack, Lou Henry Hoover’s sister, Jean Henry Large and niece, Janet Large, resided on the island of Oahu. They were writing Christmas cards and wrote the following to her daughter Jean on December 7, 1941, although it did not arrive until February 4, 1942 in a military censored envelope:
“Janet and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year.
We are having a very noisy Sabbath right now. Guns are roaring in the offing, clouds of black smoke rising down below, and airplanes sailing round in a ‘hit and miss’ manner. Janet says not to be surprised if a sack of flour hits the roof. Apparently we are showing that we can protect ourselves if necessary. Just a thought, you don’t suppose it is the real thing do you?!
I miss you all very much, although enjoying of course the unusual life I am living.
Jean Henry Large”
The next day, Jean Henry Large wrote a letter to Jean describing what she realized was an actual attack on the naval facility at Pearl Harbor. The following excerpts describe the grim realization of a nation now at war.
Sunday morning 9 A.M. [December 7, 1941]
“Just reported on radio—‘Rising sun sighted on wing tips of airplanes. Sporadic air attack. Planes have been shot down.’
First radio official report. Janet got her office. Mr. Benson told Janet ‘700 men killed at Wheeler Field—Barracks blown up. (Wheeler Field is down the hill about 4 miles)’ and Honolulu Harbor pretty well shot up. ‘Major Harrington (retired living 2 doors from us and President of Janet’s company) donned his uniform and with first bomb and has gone to Barracks.”
Monday morning 9.30 A.M.
“…A complete blackout of the Island was made. First we pulled down venetian blinds, and turned on one lamp, light showed from the window. Then we fastened up blankets at all the windows—still showed. So we got on the floor with 2 candles flanked by blankets and played ‘Pinochle’ until 10 o’clock…Wish I had your gun or my gun. Fancy being in the midst of a war with no fire arms!”
The letter goes on to describe updates of information about casualties and attempts to gather provisions and create makeshift outdoor trenches should another attack occur.
“First I was told to get as much water in both tubs, pots, etc. for fear the water supply should be broken. Then on radio we were told to boil all drinking water as there was a report the water had been ‘doctored.’ That is probably just hysteria.”
In closing, Jean Large reassures her daughter that she and others “are reasonably safe, so don’t worry. I would not like to be situated near any of the strategic places. Will you drop just a postal card to Aunty Lou [Lou Henry Hoover] if this letter comes through saying we are hale and hearty….” She concludes, “A very disjointed letter I find. Probably no more Christmas cards get off!”