Dec. 7, 1941: Day of Infamy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 8, 2005

President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it &#8220a day that will live in infamy.” December 7, 1941, started out as just another Sunday for most Americans – a day for church, family dinners, rest and relaxation.

The massive aerial bombing by the Japanese of an American naval base in far-away Hawaii seemed unreal to most that heard the news.

World War II veteran Gene Hardin was working in the receiving office of the base hospital at Cochran Field in Macon, Ga. that Sunday afternoon 64 years ago.

&#8220I was on duty that day, checking folks into the hospital…someone had a radio and we all congregated around it,” Hardin recalled.

The initial reaction of many was one of confusion rather than fear, Hardin said.

&#8220Everybody was saying, ‘Where the heck is Pearl Harbor?' It all seemed so far away from us, a terrible event we didn't know much about,” Hardin recalled.

&#8220However, being on a military base, we knew we would be in conflict soon enough.”

By late afternoon, Hardin said, many on the Georgia base went outside to gaze at the sky, and wonder about the probability of Macon being bombed.

&#8220It still seemed pretty distant and unreal at that point,” he said.

At Auburn University, throngs of students milled anxiously about the campus that Sunday afternoon in 1941. Many intently listened to the president's speech via a loudspeaker attached to a car radio.

&#8220We didn't have TVs back then, nothing but radios…when we heard about the attack, we just couldn't believe the news,” WW II POW Ed Jernigan recalled.

At the time of the invasion, Jernigan was a freshman at Auburn majoring in industrial engineering.

A page of his ‘41-'42 Glomerata yearbook is devoted to photos of students taken on that &#8220infamous day.”

&#8220You see where all the fellows are grouped? That's exactly where I was that day,” Jernigan said as he pointed out a photo.

&#8220I can tell you, the Japanese sure messed up a perfectly good Sunday for us,” he added with a wry grin.

Anger and fear of the unknown – not just what had happened, but what was going to happen – spread across the campus, Jernigan said.

&#8220It looked like they had destroyed the whole Pacific Fleet…what was going to come next?”

Hardin said news of the invasion really began to sink in at his base in Georgia the day after the attack.

&#8220You could tell the whole base was on a war footing. Everyone seemed to be looking over their shoulders…we finally realized how vulnerable we really were.”

Jernigan saw many of his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers at Auburn enlist right after Pearl Harbor.

&#8220By December of ‘42, I had signed up with the Army Air Corps Reserve…I wrote (future wife) Lillian at Montevallo and said I didn't think we'd be called up any time soon,” Jernigan recalled.

Plans quickly change in wartime.

&#8220Before you know it, I had to write her back and tell her it would be any day. We were in basic training in Miami Beach by the end of February. It was just like that.”

By 1942, Hardin was serving with the army overseas.

&#8220We weren't all that impressed at first (with Pearl Harbor)…little did we know it would turn out to be the beginning of something very big for this nation.”