Special Reports

On another anniversary, 60 years ago, news was of war

As we approach the first anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we struggle to find the appropriate way to commemorate.

Should we show resolve or sorrow? Should we sound a call to arms or a summons to prayer? Everyone seems a little self-conscious - wondering if our actions will be judged as too maudlin, too commercial or just too much.

Sixty years ago, America seemed much less concerned about how to commemorate the first anniversary of an act that is frequently compared to Sept. 11. In December of 1942, Americans were too busy to be self-conscious. They had a war to fight.

On the front page of the Dec. 1, 1942, Tacoma News Tribune, was a story about British and French forces being within 12 miles of a German stronghold in North Africa. Down the page were stories about the pending start of gasoline rationing on the West Coast and the expansion of the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding yard on the Tideflats. Inside was a call for women to attend Red Cross surgical-dressing classes to help meet a shortage of bandages.

"Now you can buy coffee again," stated an advertisement for Hill Bros. Coffee, just three days after national coffee rationing began.

Goodyear was promoting the "War Tire," for sale to motorists whose existing tires could not be recapped. The surgeon general declared that keeping the thermostat at 65 was not only patriotic but healthful.

And people were urged not to travel over the holidays because trains would be jammed with soldiers and government workers.

That same paper included a request by Gov. Arthur Langlie for all residents of the state to pause at 9:25 a.m. on Dec. 7.

Tacoma was readying a ceremony for the anniversary.

"War savings staff officials reveal that the Liberty Center show climaxes Pearl Harbor week, which is being marked here by the sale of an extra bond to avenge Pearl Harbor."

But despite the daily reminders of the war, there was a form of normalcy. The real estate page included a rendering of a new home above a caption "There Will Be a Tomorrow." It encouraged people to plan for the house they might build when the war was over.

And the paper was filled with department store and jewelry store Christmas ads. Some promoted "practical gifts." But plenty of others were selling diamonds and furs and lingerie.

Labor shortages were rampant, and the want ads were filled. Olin Corp. was desperate for aluminum workers. Walker Chevrolet needed a "Girl with service station experience..." President Roosevelt ended the Depression-era Works Projects Administration that month because "it is no longer necessary." The governor paroled 200 inmates that month on condition that they enlist in war industries. One was Hallett French, the businessman who pocketed the premiums that should have gone to insure the first Narrows Bridge.

But the fighting was never far from anyone's mind. Each day's paper contained notices of local men killed or missing in action.

The Sunday, Dec. 6 TNT carried a half-page of photos from the attacks under a headline "Remember Pearl Harbor! More Details of Stab in Back Revealed by Navy on Anniversary Eve." The same edition reported that half of the ships stricken had rejoined the fleet, and only the Arizona was a total loss.

The editorial noted that the year contained "365 days in which our way of life has been shifted, is still being shifted, with a horrible grinding, gnashing of gears ... With all the mistakes and faltering since Pearl Harbor, with dark days which surely lie ahead, the nation can well be proud of itself as it marks the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor."

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657