The Attack on Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, 80 Years Ago

Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii

December 7, 1941. In a gold waitress uniform, Doris Wilson served Sunday dinner to the after-church crowd at McDonald’s Drug store in Perry, Iowa. A hint of Evening in Paris perfume permeated the store, where it was also sold. Doris worked at the soda fountain there, but after church on Sundays, she was kept busy in the restaurant section.

Doris Wilson at the soda fountain section, McDonald’s Drug Store, Perry, Iowa, 1940s

Sammy Kaye’s Sunday Serenade provided background music over WHO Radio. A news bulletin interrupted the music: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

The restaurant grew quiet. “The Japs? Why would they bomb Pearl Harbor?” someone asked.

“Does this mean we’re at war?”

“Where is Pearl Harbor anyway?” asked another.

“Hawaii,” Doris said. “I’m afraid this does mean war. And my brothers are all the wrong ages.”

“How many brothers do you have?”

“Five. Donald is already in the Navy. His ship was stationed in Pearl Harbor a few months ago. He said we shouldn’t trust the Japanese, and he was right.”

Thank God Donald had jumped ship a couple of weeks earlier to return to the Minburn farm to see the family. With war breaking out for real, who knew when they’d all be together again?

And thank God Danny was too young to be drafted, and Junior was still in high school at Washington Township School. But Delbert would probably be recalled by the Navy, and Dale had already registered for the draft. Donald wasn’t safe in the Atlantic either. Doris feared for all five brothers.

The family photograph taken at Edmonson’s Photo in Perry while Donald was home, eighty years ago, was the last one ever taken. It was the last time the whole family was together. Soon, Delbert was back in the Navy, and Dale joined the US Army Air Force as a cadet.

Last photo of the Wilson family, November 1941, Perry, Iowa: Seated: Clabe and Leora. Standing: Danny, Darlene (Wilson) Scar, Donald, Junior (still in high school), Delbert, Doris, Dale

In just a few months, Donald Wilson, on the crew of the famous USS Yorktown, would be in major battles with the Japanese in the Pacific, barely escaping with his life.

One by one the Wilson brothers volunteered until all five had left the Minburn farm to serve in the war.

President Roosevelt had made a prophecy back in 1936, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

He was right. And so was Doris’s premonition.

That generation of the Wilsons, having endured poverty during the worldwide Depression, was destined to suffer the anguish of losing three brothers during a world war.

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Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II is the family’s WWII story, and also the story behind the five Wilson brothers who are featured on the Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn, Iowa.

16 comments

  1. The number and significance of your family’s photos never ceases to amaze me! And you’re making good use of them in sharing the family’s story.

      • I remember a woman at the senior center where I worked briefly in the late ’90s reading her first-hand account of Pearl Harbor Day. She was the wife of a Navy man who was stationed there. What I remember from her account is mass confusion and disbelief that Hawaii was being attacked.

      • I’m thankful her story was saved. They’re talking on the radio this afternoon about how Pearl Harbor wasn’t even mentioned in a local school today.

  2. Perfectly told & deeply moving. So many of our folks generation have told where they were, how they heard. About 25-35% had radios in their cars besides home & restaurants like McDonald’s Drug in Perry. Several talked about it at WWII programs as they might the sudden death of a close family member….they knew their life would never be the same again 80 years ago today.
    My Dad heard it on his radio in parking lot at ISTC(UNI today) waiting for future wife, my mom to get off Sunday lunch waitress job at Commons.
    My mother in law was candling eggs at work in Webster City. The next day several young men from work came in to say goodbye as they went off to sign up for service
    after FDR’s Day of Infamy speech to Congress.
    My Aunt Betty told how they listened to FDR’s radio speech at an all school assembly in the gym the next day. Later, on the first day back from Christmas break, their gym teacher was leaving to join the service. She and the girl’s choir sang ” I’ll be seeing you at all the old familiar places.”

  3. Wow, that quote, Joy. It’s so true. And so unfortunately for your family. This post is really wonderful how it makes the reader feel what it would have been like to find out about Pearl Harbor.

  4. Such a beautiful and moving post…there are no words to express the extreme sacrifice of this family. The photos speak of so much love…like a river that flows through the pain. The love rises above it all and that is such a beautiful thing.

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