Open Fire

War in Europe Begins

I remember it well! On 1 September 1939, just after dark, we heard a newsboy in our neighborhood yelling a headline, "Extra! Extra! War in Europe. Hitler invades Poland. Fighting Going On!" People rushed out of their homes to buy this extra edition, then hurried back inside to listen to the newscasts on their radios.

I was just entering Longfellow Jr. High School at Enid, Oklahoma, where I had just moved to from Oklahoma City. I was almost 14 years old, and strangely enough, I remember thinking that this war was on a bit premature for me, and it would be over before I would be old enough to fly a fighter plane in it. I felt a bit disappointed.

A few more years passed as we all kept track of the war news in Europe. For those who have forgotten, or are too young to know, the mood of the entire country was strong isolationism, very much like it was at the beginning of World War I. This was another foreign war starting, and we definately should not get involved in it.

Strong isolationism was especially the mood for American mothers, when about fifty thousand, or more, of them gathered on the steps of the Capital Building in Washington in about 1940, demanding in no uncertain terms that the President and Members of Congress keep their sons out of this war. This was referred to as the famous "Mothers March on Washington" and hysterical pacifism. They well remembered our losses about 20 years earlier in the First World War. That war was called 'The War to end all wars.' It was supposed to have settled all international issues and we believed that there would be no more wars.

Had President Roosevelt overtly tried to get us into the war, both he and the war would have been very unpopular, and he would have lost public support, even though at the rate the war was going, it was obvious that Hitler would soon be in control of all of Europe, and we would either have to join him, or fight him alone. Europe truly needed our help before it was too late to save it and the world, from Nazism.

But the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor suddenly changed all that. It outraged the American people instantly. How dare the Japanese do such a thing to us, a peaceful nation? Now, we were infuriated and ready to fight, giving Roosevelt the opportunity he needed to come to the aid of Europe and to stop the Japanese aggression.

Did President Roosevelt know of the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?

We don't know for sure, but if he had intentionally supervised the events that allowed a surprise attack, it couldn't have worked out better as a means to provoke us into a fighting spirit, because Roosevelt knew that we would not fight unless we were attacked first. In other words, we had to be pushed into the war.

And many veterans, including myself, plus many military historians, subscribe to the idea that he did just that - he let it happen knowingly. Even though the consequences were great, I believe that it was the best decision for this country, because the longer we waited, the stronger Germany and Japan were becoming.

Japan was a very militant nation and bent on expansion. They had already aggressively taken over most of the Pacific and only American and British possessions stood in their way for taking more. Had we waited, even a few months longer, it probably would have been too late, or at least, would have prolonged the war extensively. Sooner or later, we would have to fight, and obviously, the sooner the better, and I believe that Roosevelt was certainly very aware of that and the necessity to act.

Roosevelt was known as a shrewd poker player, and if you look at the facts of history, you either have to accept the conclusion that Roosevelt and his closest aids were aware of the approaching attack and let it happen (while cleverly ordering all four of our aircraft carrriers out to sea previously, plus all of our submarines), or else you have to believe that he was extermemly naive and stupid - which he certainly was not.

We had many accurate warnings and indications of the Japanese intentions, in spite of what the two Japanese ambassadors were saying in Washington at the time. They were here trying to gain concessions from us and to divert our attention from the approaching attack. When was it ever known that the Japanese could be trusted? Their continued invasion of the Asian countries should have easily foretold the war with us.

In addition to some of the other warnigs of an impending attack, a midget, two-man Japanese submarine washed ashore during the night near Pearl Harbor before the attack. One crewman drowned and we captured the other, it's commander - but we did nothing!

This captured submarine has been on display at the maritime museum at Key West, Florida for years for all to see, along with a note of its history. It's commander, Kazuo Sakamaki was a prisoner of war for the duration and died in 1999 ( See his obituary article.)

Another midget sub was spotted at 3:32 a.m trying to enter the harbor by the American Minesweeper USS Condor about 50 yards off its bow. The sub was submerged with just the top of its conning tower showing. Since all American submarines were required to surface completely before entering the harbor, the submerged sub was considered hostile. The minesweeper was not equipped to attack a submarine, so it reported the incident and also notified a nearby American Destroyer, the USS Ward, that began a search. While the destroyer was still searching, a patrolling PBY seaplane spotted the sub entering the harbor and radioed the information. Ten minutes later the destroyer made contact and opened fire, hitting the conning tower. As the sub dove for deeper water, the destroyer dropped four depth charges and the seaplane dropped several more and the sub sank in 1200 feet of water.

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Copyright© 2003, Roy William Roush. All Rights Reserved.