By Keith L. Yates
Above, a burned U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress rests near Hangar 5, Hickam Field, Oahu, Hawaii. It was flown to Hickam by Captain Raymond T. Swenson from California and arrived during the attack on December 7, 1941. On its final approach, the aircraft’s magnesium flare box was hit by Japanese strafing and ignited. The burning plane separated upon landing. The crew survived the crash, but a flight surgeon was killed by strafing as he ran from the burning wreck. Public Domain photo. Caption courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
In December of 1941, I was in the eighth grade at the Dishman Grade School, now in the City of Spokane Valley. Mr. Wayne Harris was our eighth grade teacher and the school principal at that time.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, a surprise attack was made on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. U.S. Navy ships were sunk in the harbor, and 2,402 people were killed.
Our family was attending the morning worship service in the Opportunity Christian Church at 16 South Robie Road on that Sunday morning when someone came bursting into the sanctuary yelling, “Pearl Harbor has been bombed!” Our pastor, W. P. Sutton, had just started his sermon when he was interrupted by the commotion. He immediately stopped his preaching, listened to the congregation as they started talking excitedly, and then held up his hand and closed the service in prayer.
As people left the church that morning, most were asking, “Where is Pearl Harbor?”
Most people did not have radios in their cars, so they rushed home to listen to the news on their home radios. We were no exception, as we spent that Sunday afternoon huddled around our floor model Montgomery Ward radio listening to the news. We also pulled out our atlas to find where Pearl Harbor was.
As a Spokesman Review newspaper carrier at that time, I remember delivering Monday morning’s paper with a huge headline on the front cover which I believe bannered, “WAR??”
When we arrived at school that Monday morning, December 8, 1941, Mr. Harris had a small radio on his desk with the news turned on. The blackboard behind his desk had a large map tacked to it with Pearl Harbor circled. Also, the front cover of the morning paper was tacked next to it and some atlases and history books were on his desk.
We all heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt give his now famous speech on Mr. Harris’s small radio, that began: “Yesterday, December 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.”
The whole class was rather subdued that day as I remember.
As soon as the opening bell rang, Mr. Harris stood and said, “For the next week or so we are going to drop all of our other subjects and learn as much as we can about the current affairs of our country and world. This, in time, will prove to be more important than anything else you can learn from any of your other subjects, at this point in your lives.”
Since that time, some sixty-eight or so years later, I have thought many times how “right on” Mr. Harris was.
None of us knew at that time that some of us would end up serving our country during what quickly became known as World War II, as well as later in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
Yes, our lives changed at that time in history, and the actions of our teacher did much to help us prepare for those changes. As a paperboy, I told Mr. Harris that I would provide daily copies of the Spokesman Review for our class for two weeks.
During the next two weeks, we read the war news in the paper daily, listened to all of the special news reports on the radio, and researched as much of the history of the Japanese Empire and the War in Europe as we could find, as the United States had quickly joined the fight there as well as in the Pacific.
In the meantime, the entire Dishman school became involved in a scrap drive where metal, glass, paper, old tires, and more, were collected in large segregated piles in our play field from where they were trucked off for the war effort.
Although our special study only lasted about two weeks, our lives continued to be affected thorughout the World War II era. War bonds and savings stamps were promoted through the school, rationing was soon felt and new students started entering the Dishman school as families moved into the area to work in the defense plants that were quickly built nearby.
Yes, the Dishman Grade School and my eighth grade teacher, Mr. Wayne Harris, have held special memories for me.