LEARNING TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR
By Betty Orlemann
December 7, 1941. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday when suddenly the shocking news was blasted across America: THE JAPANESE HAVE BOMBED PEARL HARBOR!!
Our Battleships were sunk, many of our servicemen and civilians were killed. Terror and destruction reigned. I was a little girl and couldn’t really understand the horror of the situation. I remember that five brothers who had joined the Navy together were all killed. That affected me more than anything else. Their name was Sullivan and I can remember to this day how broken hearted I was for their parents. After that, I recall that a law was passed forbidding siblings to go into war together.
The following day all of the children in our grammar school were taken to the auditorium to hear a broadcast by President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering a message to the entire country: “He referred to the attack on Pearl Harbor as a Day that will live in Infamy.” He said, “I hate war. We all hate war…..” and he declared war on Japan. World War II had started.
Bold newspaper headlines referred to the Japanese as “JAPS” from then on. I learned to hate the “JAPS.” So did everyone I knew. I pictured a whole country full of terrible people who all looked alike and wanted to kill us.
We were never bombed by the Japanese or the Germans, but we were taught how to protect ourselves during an air raid. Our parents became Air Raid Wardens. Some of our older friends became airplane spotters. Our Air Force planes flew over our house all the time it seemed. Everything was rationed — food and gasoline primarily. Black-out curtains covered our windows.
Then the big brother of one of my good friends who lived across the street from us was killed in the war. His name was David and I had a crush on him. That broke my heart for his sister, his parents and for me! That was personal. So was the news that one of my British uncles had joined the RAF.
However, no matter how bad the war seemed to me, I knew that we were fortunate compared to others whose homes were actually bombed and loved ones killed in other countries.
One such person was a little girl who lived in Tokyo. Her name is Connie and we just recently became friends. She said to me the other day, “No one can understand how terrible war is when they only read about it in history books.” Her experiences were almost indescribable.
Connie saw death and destruction all around her. She knew when the American planes flew over that they dropped bombs – even nuclear bombs at the war’s end!
She remembers that when she was in school the children were given toy swords and taught how to use them on the American pilots if they came! She demonstrated this to me, but fortunately she never had to attack anyone.
“I HATED THE AMERICANS!!” she stated to me. I understood.
Now we see each other at a music appreciation group to which we belong. She’s a lovely person, and I have great admiration for her. The war was a long time ago for most people, but not for everyone.
Sandy: Thanks, Betty, for sharing that story. War is a frightening thing and, when we are frightened, it’s so easy to hate, so easy to think of the people on the “other” side as different from us.
To the readers of Birth of a Novel, I hope all of you have a wonderful Independence Day, appreciative of the meaning of the holiday and surrounded by people you love. In addition, I have a much larger hope, one for our planet: that someday all of its inhabitants will have reason to celebrate their independence and that war stories will be a thing of the past. It seems to me the story of these two women becoming friends is a step in the right direction. Thanks again, Betty and Connie, for sharing your story.