‘WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM …’
At 2:31 p.m. Eastern time on CBS radio, newscaster John Daly interrupted programming to announce a catastrophic attack near Oahu … “We interrupt this program to bring you this special announcement. “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack also was made on all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu.”
The events of shattering that peaceful Sunday morning in Hawaii changed both the people and world events not only for a day but also for all days.
When news broke that planes from a Japanese carrier group had bombed part of the Hawaiian island of Oahu and the U.S. Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor, Fallon’s Nellie Nelson who formerly lived in Sacramento in the early 1940s with her two toddlers, leaned closer to her radio to listen to the ominous news of the attack.
“I was stunned, you bet,” said Nelson, who had her 100th birthday party last month at Highland Village.
Then, the 25-year-old mother living in Sacramento, Nelson felt very frightened, especially after learning armor-piercing bombs destroyed many U.S. Navy warships. Then volunteers walked house to house, telling occupants to darken the houses by turning off outside lights and pulling drapes where no light shined through any cracks. Nelson said at the time, concern grew that if the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, then a fleet of ships and planes could sail east and bomb along the coastline from Washington State to California and into the inland communities.
“There was a major concert of an attack on the West Coast,” she said.
During the next four years, Nelson stayed at her Sacramento house with her two young daughters. Her husband joined the Merchant Marines as an engineer and sailed the Pacific Ocean to deliver goods to the islands and to the military.
She religiously tuned to the radio everyday to listen for news from the Pacific and Europe, while she read more details of the fighting from her hometown Sacramento Bee newspaper.
“I remember the entertainment shows, but I remember (newscasts) Lowell Thomas, Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow,” she said. “I always tried to have the radio on.”
Nelson remembers the nation coming together and pitch into help wherever possible. The government began selling war bonds to raise money for the fighting, which was now on two fronts, the Pacific and Europe.
“Ronald Coleman was in town to sell war bonds, and I bought one,” Nelson said, adding Coleman was a very handsome man. “I bought a bond for $25, which was a lot of money.”
To this day Nelson still swoons over Colman, a popular English actor in the 1930s and 40s. Colman knew the horrors of war. He joined the British Army’s London Scottish Regiment in 1909 but was wounded during World War I in 1915. In 1942 Colman and other Hollywood actors and actresses traveled the country to encourage residents to buy war bonds.
Nelson said residents — including her toddlers — received ration books for food. According to various sources, “each person was allowed a certain amount of points weekly with expiration dates. ‘Blue Stamp’ rationing covered canned, bottled, frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices and dry beans, and such processed foods as soups, baby food and ketchup.
“Ration stamps became a kind of currency with each family being issued a ‘War Ration Book.’ Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and time designated, and the book guaranteed each family its fair share of goods made scarce, thanks to the war.”
One of the first items rationed were silk stockings because Japan produced the majority of silk. Used pairs of silk stocking helped the war cause by making war-related items such as parachutes.
“We never went without anything,” Nelson said.
Even after 75 years, Nelson becomes teary when thinking of her friends who died during the war. Even those who served — including her husband — were reluctant to speak of their exploits years after war ended in Europe in May 1945 and on Sept. 2, 1945, when the treaty was signed between the Japanese and United States aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor.
Near the end of the war, Merchant Marine ships hauled two atomic bombs to Tinian Island, one of three islands in the Northern Marianas that served as the launching point for the atomic bomb attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The aviation training to work with B-29 bomber crews to drop the atomic bomb was part of the 509th Composite Group, which trained at the Wendover Army Air Base on the Nevada-Utah border west of Salt Lake City.
Nelson said her late husband sailed on one of the Merchant Marine ships that delivered the new type of bomb used over Japan.
“He joined the Merchant Marine and was gone for most of the war, and I raised the little ones myself,” she said. “He never talked about (the mission) before the explosions.”
As with many people around the world, Nelson said she was relieved the wars ended in 1945. Like in the late 1930s and early 1940s, she learned of the war’s end from radio newscasts and her Sacramento Bee.