Let’s say, just for the sake of the game, we have awakened 75 years ago, on the first Sunday of December 1941. A kind of reverse Rip Van Winkle.
We would find it was not Sunday, Dec. 4 in 1941. It was Dec. 7, 63 degrees and overcast in most of Sonoma County, fog on the coast.
In Santa Rosa, people were going to or coming from church, women getting the roasting chicken ready for the oven, men looking forward to a day without hard work, kids lying on the floor, giggling over the Katzenjammer Kids and L’il Abner in the Sunday funnies.
This was distinctly small-town USA. Several years earlier the city was chosen for a survey by Life magazine, calling it a “typical West Coast city.” Residents took great pride in being typical.
Music lovers tuned to the Sunday morning symphony concert in New York City were probably the first to hear: Announcer John Daly stopped the music to say that Pearl Harbor, in the Hawaiian Islands, where the Pacific Fleet was moored, had been attacked.
The announcement from Daly, later the moderator of TV’s long-running “What’s My Line?” was pretty much like kicking over an anthill. The old fire bell, long unused atop the former fire station on Fifth Street, was tested for air raid warnings. The county’s Defense Council ordered a 24-hour watch over public utilities and other potential air raid targets. By nightfall, more than 1,000 men had been appointed as block wardens and were patrolling the streets, reminding residents to cover their windows and turn out all outside lights.
Citizens of the West Coast truly believed, in those early days, that Japanese planes and ships were on their way.
The military didn’t help calm jangled nerves. Tuesday morning’s Press Democrat (the PD did not publish on Mondays) came with “EXTRA” printed big and in red ink across the top and a headline of equal proportions and brilliance that said: “ENEMY HERE.”
It would later be determined that the Army’s information office in San Francisco had reported 30 Japanese planes crossing the coastline west of San Jose on Monday night, flying north over the Navy base at Mare Island.
Cooler heads would later admit that this probably never happened, but every night that first week, somebody saw enemy aircraft. Submarines were spotted at Dillon Beach and Point Arena, the latter likely to have been absolutely true.
The recollections of Santa Rosa’s Keegan brothers, told to author Studs Terkel for his book “The Good War,” speaks to that turmoil.
Dennis, later a respected Santa Rosa attorney, was a 20-year-old student at the University of San Francisco, and Frank, 16, was a senior at Santa Rosa High School (he would later become a scholar and author who served as vice president of Sonoma State in the 1980s).
When Terkel came to interview them in 1983, Dennis told of his Sunday night ride back to school with friend and neighbor Paul Wright, then a young carpenter working during the week on the construction of San Francisco’s Union Square Garage and later a well-known Santa Rosa contractor.
They were stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge while soldiers searched their car. They found panicky crowds in the streets, exchanging rumors of incoming planes.