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Sunday in Hell
Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute
By Bill McWilliams
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 Bill McWilliams
All rights reserved.
The New Totalitarians
Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.
On board the Matson Line's formerly luxurious SS Lurline the last days of December 1941, she earned the nickname of "Mighty Mouse" from the ship's crew and passengers. The Lurline's passengers included wounded, tourists, military dependents, non-essential government employees and their dependents, and civilian contractor employees' dependents being evacuated from the island of Oahu to the West Coast following the Japanese Empire's 7 December attack on Pearl Harbor. She was the spark for the women she called the "Tennessee twelve," wives whose husbands were crew members aboard the battleship USS Tennessee. Largely through the grapevine, and later from her personal observation of the event, the twelve learned the Tennessee had slipped out of Pearl Harbor with the battleships Maryland and Pennsylvania on Saturday afternoon, 20 December.
Unknown to her and the Tennessee twelve, the destroyers Tucker, Flusser, Case, and Conyngham preceded the three battleships out of the harbor, with orders to provide them a screen against attacks by Japanese submarines.
Departing under the greatest possible secrecy and designated Task Force 16 in sealed orders handed to Rear Admiral William S. Anderson, who was the Senior Officer Present Afloat and task force commander on board Maryland, the ships' sudden departure from Pearl Harbor created a stir. The Tennessee wives could only speculate as to their husbands' destination.
From 26 to 31 December Lurline sailed in Convoy Number 4032, one of the United States' earliest, World War II Pacific convoys, accompanied by two more Matson Line ships, the recently government acquired SS Matsonia, and the US Army Transport Monterrey, acquired by the Army in July 1941. Escorting the three Matson Line ships were the Pacific Fleet's Task Group 15.6, light cruiser USS St. Louis and two destroyers, Preston and Smith. Sailing through waters patrolled by Japanese submarines surrounding Oahu and near harbor entrances off the mainland's West Coast, Lurline, her sister ships and escorts, were moving at 17 knots, sometimes zigzagging, under equally tight secrecy and radio silence. No electronic signals of any kind to be sent ship to shore. Destination, San Francisco - a fact none of the passengers and nearly all the crew members knew. As was the case with Task Force 16, the movement of Convoy 4032 was highly classified.
Days and nights were tense, ships darkened. During daylight hours, when the weather and seas permitted, two Curtiss SOC Seagulls, catapulted off the St Louis, patrolled in planned patterns ahead of the convoy, searching primarily for submarines lying in wait, or the presence of Japanese ships or patrol planes launched from submarines or ships. Twenty-four hours a day, lookouts on board all the ships in the convoy constantly eyed the rough, wintry waters' surface with binoculars for tell tale signs of submarines, while destroyers aided their searches with hydrophones or SONAR, a relatively new electronic device in anti-submarine warfare. Life jackets in hand or worn by passengers and crew were mandatory on board the three Matson ships.
It's said that dynamite comes in small packages, and indeed, at five feet tall in a natural honey-blond, energetic, vivacious, smart, and determined woman, it does. Mary Joleen "Joey" Border lived the example. She was there, in Honolulu on 7 December, a barely twenty-one year old bride of less than five months that fateful morning. And now, here she was, back on the Lurline three months after she sailed on the same ship from San Francisco to Honolulu, to join her handsome, Navy officer husband, Ensign Robert Lee "Bob" Border - a 1939 United States Naval Academy graduate and crew member on the battleship Tennessee.
Joey and Bob had met in the junior officers' wardroom on Tennessee while the great ship named for the "Volunteer State" was in port at Puget Sound Navy Yard in December 1940. Bob's older brother, Ensign Karl Frederick Border, who was his Academy classmate, was also his shipmate and roommate aboard Tennessee when Bob and Joey met. The world was aflame in Asia and Europe when they met, and their story was one among millions in a much larger story, a catastrophic event which swept up their lives and shook the world.
The nine years preceding December 1940 were tumultuous. Growing in power, the 20th century's new totalitarians relentlessly pushed the world ever deeper into crisis. In the Far East, war began in September 1931 when Japan, ruled for five years by Emperor Hirohito, used the pretext of a minor incident on the South Manchuria Railroad to invade and annex Manchuria. Five months later Japan proclaimed the puppet state of Manchukuo. Having occupied Korea since President Theodore Roosevelt's arbitrated settlement of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, they used the peninsula as their base to seize Manchuria.
Then, in 1933, the same year Franklin Delano Roosevelt first took the oath of office as the 32nd president of the United States, the Empire of the Rising Sun seized more of North China while the weak, divided nation, most of her provinces ruled by warlords, was mired in an expanding civil war between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Mao Tse-Tung's Communists. As the conflagration in Asia spread in the two years preceding 1933, the League of Nations debated, while in Japan, by terror and political pressure, the military took complete control of the government.
The Rise of Nazi Germany
In 1932, on the other side of the world, Germany's electorate accorded a new, dominant status to the rapidly growing National Socialist Party, Adolph Hitler's Nazis. Preying on the bitterness and disillusionment wrought by crushing reparations demanded by the Allies after Germany's World War I defeat, and economic collapse under the governing Weimar Republic, the Nazi Party appeared to offer Germans new hope. Though receiving only a third of the total, the Nazis, with fourteen million votes, had become the largest political party in the nation. Hitler previously vowed to rebuild the Nazi Party and achieve power by constitutional means. In January 1933, he achieved the last of his two goals when the former World War I general and aging president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Hitler Germany's Chancellor. The next month, the Nazis used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to jail, beat and torture the Communists wholesale. They also gagged other political parties.
In the six years following his January 1933 accession he smashed democracy, dispossessed and ultimately liquidated Germany's cultivated Jewish population, and crushed party dissidents through terror or sometimes outright murder. He silenced the General Staff, seized the economy, and assumed direction of foreign policy. The rich Saarland, temporarily removed by the Allies from German administration after World War I, voted to rejoin the Reich.
In September 1933, the Nazis held the first of their annual, giant Nuremberg rallies with their attending, huge, uniformed throngs - which assembled to carefully selected, inspiring martial music and the triumphant entry of the dictator, the likes of which the world had never seen. Filled with exciting pageantry and fervent, electrifying appeals to national pride, the rallies were the catalysts for renewing the glories of a Germany once again aggressively reasserting itself on the world stage.
In October 1933, claiming Germany was not given equality with other nations, Hitler took his country out of the League of Nations and the Geneva Disarmament Conference. By the end of the year, Hitler was Fuhrer, his ambition only temporarily satiated. In March of 1935 Hitler revealed a German Air Force already existed, and he provided for a peacetime army of thirty-six divisions.
In the United States - Isolationism
While events were spinning out of control in the Far East and Europe, the democracies struggled to extricate themselves from the strangle hold of economic collapse which followed the panic that engulfed America's Wall Street beginning 24 October 1929. The Wall Street disaster was felt throughout Europe, and on 11 May 1931, in the year Japan occupied Manchuria, Austria's powerful Credit-Ansalt Bank collapsed. On 21 September, England abandoned the gold standard. World trade dwindled. Wages shrank fantastically, and Europe's growing number of unemployed workers joined the ruined middle class in following the Fascist, National Socialist and Communist movements, which thrived on despair.
In the United States during the decade of the 1930s isolationism reached an all-time peak. It was the period for being cynical about war and patriotism. The commonly accepted belief was America had become involved in the First World War because we had been naive dupes of shrewd British and French propaganda. In the search for scapegoats for war guilt, the Senate's Nye committee investigated munitions makers, offering Americans these "merchants of death" as another conventional wisdom for the cause of war. The theme became a myth making the rounds in America's conversation, "Arms manufacturers deliberately fomented wars to increase the markets for their wares."
When the sound of aggression wafted across the oceans - from Manchuria, Ethiopia, and Spain - and began disturbing the populace, America insulated herself with neutrality laws, forbidding trade with either side in the conflict. It made no difference that our neutrality laws always seemed to harm the victim more than the aggressor. We thought we were safe. That was what mattered.
By 4 March 1933, the day Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in following his November election defeat of Herbert Hoover, and little more than a month after Hitler became Germany's chancellor, twelve million Americans were unemployed. Roosevelt came in on promises of immediate relief, recovery and improvement. His makeshift New Deal grew in a curiously effective way, revitalizing the economy. He lowered tariffs, repealed prohibition, relieved pressure on the farmers, revalued gold, and initiated vast public works projects to take up the employment slack. Exuding self-confidence and galvanizing national faith, he brought a number of competent, imaginative men into office, and in his famous First Hundred Days concocted a new style and direction in Federal Government that would do more to change life in America than in any administration since Woodrow Wilson.
On 25 January 1933, prior to the building of the Golden Gate Bridge and President Roosevelt's inauguration, a gleaming, white, luxury liner steamed through the Golden Gate on her first voyage into San Francisco Bay. Built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company at their Fore River Plant in Quincy, Massachusetts, and launched in 1932, the Matson Line's SS Lurline was the third of the company's three magnificent passenger liners. Her two Matson Line sister ships, SS Monterey and SS Mariposa, built in 1931, were already in service. Captain William Matson, founder and President of the Matson Navigation Company, named the first two Lurlines for his daughter, and though he died in 1917, her name was carried on this third magnificent liner. The splendid, fast ship was entering service between San Francisco, Australia and New Zealand.
On 25 February the first United States aircraft carrier specifically designed for the purpose, the USS Ranger (CV-4), was christened at Newport News, Virginia, by Mrs. Herbert Hoover, whose husband was defeated in his bid for reelection to the presidency the previous fall. The U.S. had three other carriers, the Langley (CV-1), Lexington (CV-2), and Saratoga (CV-3), but they were ships that had been converted for use as carriers.
Fascism's Rise to Power
In 1933 Italy, Fascism was thriving under Benito Mussolini, who formed his first Fascist Party cell in 1919. By 1922, the same year Berlin arranged the Treaty of Rapallo with Moscow, and the German Army's General Hans von Seeckt had already established secret training and arms manufacturing inside Russia in the Soviet towns of Lipetsk, Saratov, Kazan, and Tula; Mussolini's black-shirted bully boys had so cowed the Italian government he was able to make himself dictator. A new breed of tyrants had arrived on the world stage, complete with the presence of Josef Stalin in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Totalitarianism was antithetical to everything democracy stood for, with its police state controlling the economic, political and cultural lives of its citizens. But until well into the 1930's, most Americans worried only about Communism. Many openly expressed admiration for Mussolini, who had "made the trains run on time," while Hitler was a man with a comical mustache who headed only a minority party and held no position of political power.
In 1935 the United States was still struggling to overcome the disastrous effects of The Great Depression, but the population, hungry for good news, seemed hungry for even the illusion of good news if real progress couldn't be found. Economic gains registered in 1934 appeared to produce a heady effect on the nation.
The appearance of economic progress sparked disagreements of all kinds. Labor and capital battled in a no-holds-barred brawl. President Roosevelt's New Deal suffered a stunning setback when the Supreme Court declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional. Anti-administration forces then had effective ammunition to use against the New Deal, accusing it of being un-American, Bolshevistic, communistic, and socialistic. Major and minor rebellions among Democrats in Congress destroyed Party unity, making it difficult for the President to maintain control of his own supporters. In short, the nation was feuding.
While the feuding continued, on 6 May 1935 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was instituted under the authority of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which passed on 8 April. On 11 May the Rural Electrification Administration was established by executive order to build power lines and finance electricity production in areas not served by private distributors. The Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act on 27 May, declaring it unconstitutional, invalidating the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The Court's decision implied any government attempts to legislate prices, wages, and working conditions were unconstitutional.
At the 61st annual running of the Kentucky Derby on 4 May, Omaha, with jockey Willis Saunders aboard, won with a time of 2:05. Omaha and Willis Saunders continued their amazing performance by winning the 60th annual Preakness Stakes on 11 May, in a time of 1:58 2/5, and the 67th Belmont Stakes in 2:30 3/5 on 8 June. While Omaha and his jockey were making history on the racetracks, on 24 May, in major league baseball, the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies played the first night baseball game before 20,000 fans at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds beat the Phillies 2-1. On 13 June, James J. Braddock won the heavyweight boxing championship on points in 15 rounds over Max Baer, an amazing comeback by a man considered "all washed up" by sports writers.
So-called proletarian novels reflected conflicting social forces at work given impetus by The Great Depression. The upsurge in this form of novel found a receptive audience, and sparked the founding of a left-wing book club. The trend extended to the theater, the most conservative of the literary-based arts, and Clifford Odets electrified audiences with his glorification of the little man. Imaginative artists discovered American primitivism, which was stimulated by interest in African art. The Federal Music Project employed 18,000 musicians and sponsored thousands of free concerts. The film industry produced a plethora of epics such as "Mutiny on the Bounty," "A Tale of Two Cities," and one of the finest films of all time, "The Informer." Beginning 16 August the nation mourned the loss of the renowned humorist, writer, and film star, Will Rogers, who died with the internationally known, world-traveling aviator, Wiley Post, in an airplane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska.
Excerpted from Sunday in Hell by Bill McWilliams. Copyright © 2011 Bill McWilliams. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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