(Dec. 3, 2021) On Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, at 12:30 p.m., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of both Houses of the United States Congress. The address was carried to every radio in the country.
Activity in the country ground to a halt, as every man, woman, and child who could get to a radio that day listened, as the president told the nation what it already knew: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly, and deliberately, attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
In his six-and-a-half-minute, 500-word address, he went on to say, “The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.”
For the citizens of northern Worcester County, and, in particular, the little village of Whaleyville, this news was particularly important. One of Whaleyville’s sons, Clyde Jackson Rawson, was a boatswain’s mate first class, aboard the battleship U.S.S. Arizona, which, at that time, was docked at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.
The president concluded his remarks with a request, “ . . . that the Congress declare that, since the unprovoked, dastardly, attack by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.” His request passed both Houses within the hour.
For most of the country, WWII had just begun. But for Jack Rawson, and 2,329 other sailors, soldiers and airmen, the War, and their lives, were over.
During the Depression, jobs were scarce. It was difficult for a young man to find work to earn any money. In the Spring of 1930, when a Navy Recruiter came to Buckingham High School in Berlin, Jack leapt at the opportunity and enlisted.
His enlistment date was Sept. 8, 1930. The late Maude Whaley, Jack’s neighbor and friend, was about to enter her second year at Blue Ridge Junior College, in New Windsor, Maryland, which is 7 miles from Westminster, in Carroll County.
On Sept. 8, Mr. and Mrs. Rawson took Jack and Maude to Baltimore. Because Mr. Rawson didn’t like the ferry, and because the ferry would not have allowed them to get to the Naval Receiving Station in Baltimore in time for the Induction Ceremony, the Rawsons and Maude left Whaleyville before dawn and drove around the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore.
They dropped Maude at the Camden Street Station in Baltimore, where she caught a train out to New Windsor. The Rawsons proceeded on to the Naval Receiving Station in Baltimore, where they proudly watched as Jack took the oath, and became a member of the United States Navy. That night he went by ship to the Naval Training Station in Hampton Roads, Virginia. On March 16, 1931, he was assigned to the Arizona. Maude said he was “tickled” with this assignment.
In response to the heightened tensions between Japan and the U.S., a decision was made later that spring, to move the home base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from California to the Hawaiian Islands, to a place called Pearl Harbor.
Knowing that it would eventually have to deal with the United States, Japan had been preparing for war for some time. The move of the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor merely played into its hands by moving the American fleet within striking range.
Over his protests and warnings, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was tasked with preparing an attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Planning began in January 1941.
The Japanese Fleet, commanded by Adm. Chuchi Nagumo, set sail on Nov. 25, bound for Pearl Harbor and infamy. It included six aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, Kaga, Zuikaku, and Shokaku. The six carriers carried 355 aircraft, including high altitude, torpedo and dive bombers.
The Japanese had given much attention to the conditions that would be faced by their airmen. The torpedoes that were to be launched by the Nakijima B5 N2 “Akagi” torpedo bombers, were modified to operate in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. A special 1,750-pound bomb was developed from the 16-inch naval shells used by the battleships Nagato and Mutsu. The shells were reshaped and tapered with a lathe, and fitted with fins to become aerial bombs.
The Aichi D3 A1 “Val” dive bombers were fitted with 550-pound bombs, while the Mitsubishi A6 M2 “Zeros” would protect the bombers and torpedo bombers from any American fighters that did get off the ground.
At 6 a.m., Hawaiian time, on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the six Japanese carriers launched the first wave of 183 planes. By 6:20, they had assembled and were heading south. Ninety minutes later, they would reach their destination.
For the sailors of the Arizona, this was like most other Sunday mornings. Many of the crew slept late. Some prepared to go ashore. As the Japanese planes approached, some were just finishing breakfast.
At 7:15 a.m., the enemy carriers launched the second wave of 170 planes. By 7:57 a.m., the first torpedoes, from the first wave, were hitting the water, and speeding to their targets.
Five torpedoes hit the Oklahoma. Seven smashed into the West Virginia. Two found the California. And another two struck the Utah. The cruisers Riley, Helena, and the battleship Nevada, were also hit.
At 8:05, one of the Aichi dive bombers, piloted by Petty Officer Noboru Kanai, hit the Arizona’s teakwood deck with an armor piercing bomb, between turrets One and Two. The bomb burrowed into the forward magazine, blowing the big ship apart.
Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd and the ship’s captain, Franklin Van Valkenburgh, on the ship’s bridge, were vaporized. A pillar of smoke and fire erupted into the sky, which was captured in a now-famous photo, and pieces of debris and bodies rained over Pearl Harbor. The stricken ship sank, as one observer noted,“... like an earthquake struck it .....”
In addition to several torpedoes, the Arizona was struck by, at least, eight bombs. Of a crew of 1,400, less than 200 survived.
Back in Whaleyville, Maude had completed her nurse’s training and married Frank Love on April 14, 1941. Mr. Love was in the Merchant Marine and on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. After Thanksgiving, he got some leave, and came home to Whaleyville.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Frank and Maude had gone to Dover, Delaware, to do some early Christmas shopping. Since their car had no radio, it was not until they returned, at around 4 p.m. that they learned the horrible news. As soon as the townsfolk recovered from the initial shock, horror and anger, their thoughts turned to young Jack Rawson, because everyone knew that he was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, which was at Pearl Harbor.
After the President concluded his address to Congress and the nation on Monday, Dec. 8, the airways were flooded with disastrous news — the Japanese had attacked Hong Kong and the Philippines — and the enormity of the losses suffered at Pearl Harbor.
Only from the Soviet Union was there any “good” news. From Moscow came reports that the Red Army, under Zhukov’s leadership, had launched an offensive, which was driving the Werhmacht from the gates of the Soviet capital.
Early Tuesday morning, Dec. 9, 1941, Maude was awakened by the ring of the telephone. It was a call from her mother, who was postmistress at Whaleyville. Her mother told her that there was a telegram that she could not bear to deliver, and that Frank and Maude would have to deliver it.
The telegram was from the War Department, notifying Mr. and Mrs. Rawson that their only son was dead. Frank and Maude went down to the Post Office, collected the telegram, and went to the Rawson home. Frank knocked on the door, and when the Rawsons answered it, they were already in tears. They had heard the reports, on the radio, of the devastating damage inflicted upon the Arizona.
The Rawsons invited the Loves in and offered them coffee. There was no small talk. Frank got right to the point, saying, “I have some sad news for you.” Mr. Rawson replied, “I was afraid you did.” Maude and Frank stayed several hours and reminisced with the Rawsons about Jack, the red-haired little boy, with whom Maude had grown up and played for so many hours. They remembered how full of energy Jack had been, and that he was always a lot of fun. Maude remembered that on the bus rides from Whaleyville to Buckingham High School in Berlin, Jack frequently spoke of his desire to join the Navy.
By the time the weekend arrived, Frank was on his way back to Baltimore to join the war effort in the Merchant Marine, and our country found itself at war, not only with the Japanese Empire, but also with, Germany, Slovakia, Croatia, and the Kingdoms of Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. In February, Thailand joined the war against the U.S.
Maude went to Berlin on Saturday to go to the Globe Theater. The black and white newsreels were full of scenes of the devastation from Pearl Harbor. Especially important to those at the Globe, were scenes of the smoke and fire coming from the Arizona.
Jack never married, and his only relatives were a nephew and a niece. But, the folks in Whaleyville still remember, with a plaque in the Methodist Church. And, of course, his name is on the stone tablets across from the Taylor Museum in Berlin, and in front of the Circuit Courthouse on Market Street in Snow Hill.
Jack Rawson’s remains were recovered, and he is buried in the National Cemetery, at the “Punchbowl,” on the island of Oahu, overlooking Honolulu, Hawaii. Most of the crew remain on the ship. Through the years many of the survivors have elected to join their shipmates when their time came.
Jack was the first person from Worcester County to die in World War II. He would be joined by 45 others.
Next week: British ships Prince of Wales and Repulse SUNK
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.