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DeKalb residents remember life after Pearl Harbor

Published: Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Debbie Behrends – dbehrends@shawmedia.com)
Fay Stone of DeKalb reminisces Monday about life on the West Coast and what it felt like being in the middle of a war in the months after the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor.

On the anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy,” three DeKalb residents remember how they spent the months after Dec. 7, 1941, the day that catapulted the United States into World War II.

Patricia Woods was a sophomore at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and struggling with chemistry. Fay Stone was a teen whose family had moved from Wisconsin to Tacoma, Wash., because her father took a job there. Mil Misic was a young teen in Minnesota who watched three brothers go to war.

All three women’s lives were changed because of events of that day.

“I lived with my grandmother in Urbana,” Woods said. “I called my father, who was in the Army, and he said, ‘Honey, why don’t you join the Navy?’ ”

She and a friend saw the recruiter and joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. The WAVES, created in August 1942 to provide additional military personnel, were an official part of the Navy, and its members held the same rank and ratings as male personnel.

Woods enlisted in February 1944.

Woods said she remembered the first meal she had at boot camp at Hunter College in New York.

“They had these heavy trays with dividers, but they didn’t bother to use the dividers,” Woods said. “They just poured everything on your tray.”

Later that night, she was allowed to make one phone call. She placed it to her father and told him, “I want out of this place,” she said. “I don’t like the food here.”

Along with her duties in the hospital corps, which she said were similar to a certified nurse’s aid, Woods was able to travel, escorting troops to various bases. She also had an opportunity to sell war bonds on the Good Ship Hope when it docked at Navy Pier in Chicago.

“I met a lot of nice people,” Woods said. “Money was tight, but people were enthusiastic and quite generous.”

Even through all the good experiences, Woods said occasionally she and her fellow WAVES talked about the men they replaced, often sending them to the front.

“We felt sadness, guilt maybe, taking their places so they could go to war,” Woods said.

As a teenager, Stone was too young to enlist, but felt as if she was dropped into the middle of the war.

“We arrived in Tacoma just after Pearl Harbor was bombed and housing was almost nonexistent,” Stone said.

She and her parents and older brother lived in a one-room apartment for months.

“I could have gone to the moon and been less traumatized,” Stone said.

With shipyards and a naval base on the Washington coast, Stone said the population in general was scared.

“We felt like sitting ducks,” Stone said. “The only thing between us was distance and open water. We felt very involved in the war, very quickly.”

Rationing, blackouts and scrap metal drives were part of daily life.

Stone said her father was an air raid warden, her mother went to work at Fort Lewis and she and her brother joined the Civil Air Patrol to watch for threats to the local airports.

“We were doing the job that older men would have done,” she said.

Her volunteer efforts weren’t all about work, however. Stone said she had plenty of chances to fly in small planes and learned to love flying.

Stone remembered asking about the people who ran the small Japanese grocery store in her neighborhood.

“One day the store was boarded up and they were just gone,” Stone said. “It sounds terrible now, but we didn’t know them either individually or as a people, and we were relieved.”

As a result of the mass internment of Japanese Americans, Stone said she spent a lot of summer days harvesting fruits and vegetables.

“Farmers would just come into town and say they were picking peas that day,” Stone said. “Kids would pile into the back of his truck and spend the day harvesting his crops.

“That killed my summer vacations,” she said with a laugh.

Although she was only 13 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Mil Misic remembers it vividly.

After enjoying Sunday dinner, her mother was listening to a religious service on the radio while her father dozed in his favorite chair. She played jacks, and her three older brothers were doing whatever they did on winter Sunday afternoons.

“Around 2 p.m., hurried footsteps were heard on the front porch. My three brothers came bounding into the house,” Misic wrote in an email. “ ‘Mom, Dad, change the radio station. The [Japanese] bombed Pearl Harbor.’ ”

She said they all huddled around the radio, listening intently while she returned to her jacks.

By April 1942, her oldest brother, who had just turned 21, was drafted into the Army. The second brother received an invitation from Uncle Sam in August. That November, her third brother turned 17 and enlisted in the Naval Reserve. He soon joined the regular Navy with his parents’ consent.

“We were fortunate, because all three came back alive,” she wrote.

All three brothers were plucked from their young, innocent daily lives in Minnesota and taught to shoot and kill, Misic said in a phone interview.

“I’ve often thought about the millions of young men that happened to,” she said. “I was young when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but it’s still such a vivid memory.”

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