Dec. 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy
Construction of a Marine air station at Cherry Point had been under way for several months when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor 75 year ago on Dec. 7, 1941.
At that time, just two officers and 11 enlisted men were assigned to the base.
But two days after the bombing, two platoons from the 14th Marine Provisional Company at New River, another new base in eastern North Carolina, reported to the Havelock to guard the construction site at the air station, which had been established on Aug. 18 of that year.
Up until then, Havelock was a sleepy little hamlet that was not much more than a stop on the line for the train.
“It was nothing but Hugh Trader’s store,” said Jim Muse, an 84-year-old Havelock native. “We have the old train depot. The old post office was just an old tin shack that sat just there on the left. The rest of it, it was basically just a little farming and a little bootlegging that was going on.
“That was about all that it was. My granddaddy had his farm. The Norris’ had their farm, and the Armstrongs, but that was about all there was to Havelock. We had the Methodist church, the old Trader’s House, which was across the street from the Trader’s Store. That’s about all that I can remember that Havelock was, just a crossroads.”
But the base and the bombing changed all that.
War had been raging in Europe since 1939 as the Germans swept across the continent, but the United States was hesitant to become involved. But when Japan, an ally of Germany, attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor, Americans were quick to declare war on both aggressors.
Dorothy Muldowney, 89, is today a resident of Havelock, but on Dec. 7, 1941, was at home in Shreveport, La.
“I was in high school. It came as an announcement over the radio and obviously it happened on a Sunday,” said Muldowney. “At my age I don’t remember if I knew the impact of it at that point. We certainly didn’t have visuals as you do now. It came over the radio and the adults certainly were devastated by it. We knew of the war and we were somewhat affected by it.”
Shreveport had Barksdale Field nearby, and at that time it was the world’s largest air base. Later, her husband was stationed at the base as a military policeman during World War II.
“At that point in time, young men started enlisting,” she said. “Of course the draft was in effect then so it affected everybody. I don’t know of anyone who was not affected personally because most men were either drafted or enlisted. There was hardly anyone that you knew that had any male members of the family that were not active in one of the branches of the military.
“There were injuries. There was hardly a person that was not affected within their family with members of the military. We had friends that were taken prisoner of war by both the Germans and by the Japanese, so that certainly affected your life.”
Beyond that, war rationing of basic products and food affected those at home during World War II.
“My dad had a little Model A Ford, and at that time you were limited to how much gas you could buy,” Muse said. “They gave you a little sticker that you could put on your windshield, an A, or a B. There might have been a C, but if you were an A, you got more gas, but the B limited the amount of gas that you could buy.
“I remember you couldn’t buy sugar. You couldn’t even buy beefsteak because they were sending it all to the war. At that time, cigarettes had something like tinsel on them and we would take all of that off and they used it somehow in the war to make things out of it. You just saved as much as you could. I don’t remember where you turned it in, but we saved it.”
Families were issued ration books for food.
“Food rationing went in. Gasoline was rationed. Even shoes,” said Muldowney. “You had actually a ration book – your sugar and meat and even buy shoes. You had so many coupons. Usually the parents did not buy new shoes so that the children could have them because they were outgrowing them. I remember when I needed shoes, they probably would have used one of my father’s ration coupons to get the shoes. You had coupon books that you took to the grocery store for the rationed items, sugar especially.”
Things were scarce but no one complained, Muldowney said.
“There was such a feeling of patriotism. No one protested the war ever,” she said. “People were so dedicated to the military. Yes, there was certainly a feeling of patriotism among the high school students who were of the age that they could enlist. A lot of them enlisted as soon as they reached the age to enlist.”
Curly Brazelton, 88, of Havelock, couldn’t enlist because he was too young at the time. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Brazelton was on the family farm in Hunstville, Ala.
“I was down there on the farm milking 40 head of milk cows and picking 200 acres of cotton by hand and milking cows by hand and what have you,” he said. “We didn’t think much of it (Pearl Harbor attack) because we were too young, but it affected the older folks real bad. My mother and father and brothers were standing there and they knew they were going to have to go in the armed forces.
“It just scared the hell out of everybody, really, in the United States. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know what was coming off here.”
He said getting the full picture of what had happened at Pearl Harbor was difficult.
“We didn’t know nothing. We just knew that they had been bombed,” said Brazelton. “Back in those days you didn’t have TV. TV wasn’t even thought of until 1950. Of course that was black and white. It was in the newspapers. They talked about it in the grocery stores. We still didn’t know what was going on. It was the most disastrous thing that had ever happened in the United States of America at that time. That was unreal. They were getting people in the armed forces. I mean they was taking them in. As long as you could pass a physical, you were in some branch of the service.”
Two of his half-brothers immediately joined the army after the attack.
“One of them got shot up and came back and continued farming like we were doing, like everybody else, trying to make a living,” said Brazelton.
At the height of the war in 1944, Cherry Point had grown to 23,520 military personnel. Many were pilots training for action, and many ended up fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Four long years later, the war ended.
“And when it was over with in 1945, that was the greatest time in the world,” Brazelton said. “Let me tell you, people just completely went crazy.”
Brazelton didn’t turn 18 until after the war, but joined the service anyway.
“It was the best deal I ever made in my life,” said Brazelton, who stayed in the Marine Corps for 24 years. “I didn’t want to be drafted. In July of ’46, we went down there to the pool room where the gunnery sergeant was in dress blues. I thought I was going to go in the Merchant Marines or something like that. I didn’t know what I was going to go into. I looked over there to that gunnery sergeant in dress blues and said ‘Oh hell no, that’s that damn Marine Corps.’ That gunnery sergeant came over there and bought us a couple of beers. That was in Fayetteville, Tennessee and just a few minutes later we were in the back of that pickup truck headed for Hunstville.
“Three of us joined at the same time. And after we joined and went to Parris Island like everybody else, I was wishing I was back on that damn farm. I never had it as hard as that boot camp.”