Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pearl Harbor

            December 7, 1941, is a date few will ever forget, for on that day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  The United States was at war.
            Following news of the attack, Long Beach along with the rest of the world was stunned. Hundreds of church goers leaving their places of worship at noon gathered before the windows of the Press Telegram to read late news bulletins.  Many Navy wives residing in Long Beach were visibly shaken, for practically every one of them had a husband serving in the Pacific.  The Army asked the city to loan them a sound truck so they could cruise the streets and broadcast orders for enlisted personnel to report to their stations, but no truck was available.  It turned out OK, the truck was not needed --- most servicemen, on hearing news of the attack had already reported back to base to find out what to do next.  At the Long Beach police station all was routine, yet tenseness could be detected as department heads kept near phones to find out more about the tragedy and a possible invasion of the west coast.
Japanese village of Fish Harbor on Terminal Island
Federal agents and Army troops rushed to establish a blockade around Terminal Island where several thousand Japanese, chiefly engaged in the fishing industry, made their homes.  Their fishing boats were turned back into the harbor and not allowed to proceed to the off-shore fishing grounds. Frank Ishii, president of the Long Beach chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens League pledged support of the United States in its war with Japan.  He mentioned that thirty local Japanese youths were serving in the U.S. armed forces and that the entire community would give their support to the United States.  Despite Ishii’s assurances everyone viewed any Asian as a possible spy or saboteur.
            At the Municipal Airport, which was next to the Douglas Aircraft plant and the U.S. Army and Navy air bases, action was immediate.  Because of its vital military importance, civilian aircraft were notified that they would not be allowed to fly over or near the air field.

            On December 8th the City Council was asked by the Navy to issue an ordinance requesting a complete, all night blackout.  This meant all illumination which could be visible from the air or street be banned --- blinds drawn and any outside lights turned off.  Many, including all city agencies, complied by painting their windows black.  Merchants announced stores would close at 4:30 p.m. daily and open a 8 or 8:30 a.m. to take advantage of daylight hours.  All outdoor advertising, street lights, traffic lights and auto headlights were banned from dusk until dawn.
            December 9, 1941, the evening of the first blackout, was tragically memorable: one was killed and six injured in auto crashes on darkened Long Beach streets.  Harry Riggs, a tourist from Walla Walla, Washington, died when he was hit by a car while he was crossing Ocean Boulevard near Chestnut.  Because of the darkness, witnesses were unable to determine if the pedestrian was in the cross walk or outside of it.

Long Beach and Signal Hill Dead at Pearl Harbor
            By December 13th families began to receive word of casualties at Pearl Harbor.  Josephine Smith, of 234 Prospect, was the first wife to receive word of her husband’s death.  Albert J. Smith had recently been promoted from warrant officer to lieutenant in the Navy; he had been killed in the early attacks on the Hawaiian Islands by the Japanese.
            Mrs. Fae Crawford of 3216 Vista Street was especially worried because both her husband and son were on duty on the same ship “somewhere in the Pacific.”  On December 18th she heard her son, Richard, had been killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but her husband, James, had escaped unharmed.
Long Beach men: Isaac C. Kidd, Franklin Van Valkenburg,
 Samuel G. Fuqua, Edward J. Hill. Other man Paul McMurtry
            Word followed about the deaths of John Connolly and Wilbert F. Yost (5906 Brayton Ave.) , but many more men were missing.  Anxious family members didn’t learn until late January 1942 that Carl R. Brier (17 Neptune Ave.), Robert R. Clayton, Clyde Brown and Frank Head (1052 ½ E. 5th St.) had been killed in action.  Further anxious moments awaited four other Long Beach families who didn’t learn until the end of February that Ludwig.F. Weller (122 E. 52nd St.), Ralph A. Derrington (5640 ½ Cerritos), Allen R. Teer (270 Newport Ave.)  and Robert L. Kelly had been casualties in the bombing attack at Pearl Harbor.
            The 160 widows of Navy men killed at Pearl Harbor who resided in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area were offered jobs at the Lockheed owned Vega Aircraft Company in Burbank.  It was a chaplain from the Navy Relief Society who approached the Lockheed Company with the idea.  The Navy Relief Society was not subsidized by the government, but supported solely by contributions.  It realized the widows would need more help than their agency could provide.  Nearly all the women took the basic tests for Lockheed: for now, with their husbands dead, they needed to support their families themselves since no government aid was authorized.

           On February 22, 1942, marking the 210th birthday of George Washington, nearly 6000 people packed the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium to attend memorial rites for the Pearl Harbor victims.  The stage, draped with a blue backdrop, was centered by a huge white cross.  Masses of American flags stood at the sides of the stage and on the stage sat men in Army and Navy uniforms.
            As the Long Beach Municipal Band began to play religious melodies, the sound of sobbing could be heard throughout the auditorium.  Unannounced, actress/singer Jeanette MacDonald appeared from the wings, moved across stage singing “Ave Maria.”  California governor Culbert Olson followed her moving rendition and talked about the historic tragedy.  U.S. Navy chaplain John Johnson then led the audience in prayer.  Everyone in attendance had a lump in their throat and pledged that America must go on.

For more about Long Beach and Signal Hill's role in World War II, you'll find more in my book Fighting Fear.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Veteran's Day

Why we celebrate November 11th

          At 9:06 in the morning of November 7th, 1918, the Long Beach Daily Telegram received a United Press wire---the World War in Europe had ended. The armistice took effect on November 11th, at 11 o’clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. In 1926 November 11th would officially become a U.S. holiday. In 1954 the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans.
           But festivities in Long Beach began on November 7th with news of the German surrender. The war was over!! The newspaper staff immediately got on the telephone and spread the news throughout the town.  The bathhouse siren roared, automobiles everywhere began to honk their horns, street cars and trains set bells and whistles going.  In an amazingly short time the streets were jammed with autos and trucks draped with flags.  Businesses closed.  Thousands of people, despite the influenza forced ban on public gatherings, paraded down the streets yelling, weeping, and waving flags.
Long Beach celebrates the end of the war.
          A semi-official parade began at 2 o'clock from the corner of Fourth and Pacific.  One automobile in the procession had a representation of the Kaiser's goat mounted on the hood; another carried the Kaiser's coffin.  Patriotic adults distributed packages of firecrackers to kids on the street.  At 3 P.M. three German flags were burned.
          Cecil W. Ayers, formerly a member of the British Royal Flying Corps, was part of the celebration, but it nearly killed him.  During the festivities, Ayers rode about Long Beach in an automobile of the British Ambulance Service, waving a large flag and shouting with his friends. A few hours later Ayer’s experienced what the Los Angeles Herald described as a “mind lapse” that led him back to the war and the battle trenches of France. He had been severely wounded during the war when his airplane was shot down in a battle with German aircraft.  In addition to suffering from shell shock, Ayers’ spine was injured by the fall and to make matters worse he had lost his wife to influenza three weeks before Armistice was declared. He was just one of the many who would suffer from this new form of illness called “shell shock” back then, but now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

          An "official" celebration to commemorate the end of World War I had to be delayed because of the influenza quarantine. 
"Victory Day" was eventually held on Sunday, December 8th. 3,500 people thronged the Municipal Auditorium for the three hour program.  Allied nations were represented by speakers from Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and America.
          Another celebration was held the following year, when 400 men and six women were welcomed home to Long Beach on September 9, 1919.  All were given bronze medals following a parade in which the latest war veterans were honored. 
Veterans welcomed home.
That evening eulogies were spoken for those that died.  The weather-stained city service banner, which had flown over the city since the war started, was retired.  Attached to the banner was a mammoth gold star inscribed with the number 50, signifying the number of local men who gave their lives in the war.  A blue star bore the numbers 2437 showing that 2437 Long Beach men and women had stood willing to die, if necessary, in the cause of humanity.  

The Long Beach Service Flag  would have looked
 like this but the numbers would have been different.
    The first local casualty was Donald Edward Erickson (7/3/1896-6/13/1918) who died on a battlefield in France.  He was wounded in action at Chateau Thierry on June 9, 1918. Four days later he died as a result of his wounds. His mother, a widow, was supported by her three sons---Donald, Derrell and Fred---before the war. 
   When her sons approached her about enlisting she readily gave her consent. When asked by the Long Beach Press to express her feelings about having three sons in the war and Donald’s death, Mrs. Ada Lulu Erickson replied: "Each must die in time. None can die a more glorious death than this; but, oh, it's hard to feel it all, all the time." (LB Press 6/20/1918).
          Donald’s body was returned to his mother. Marines at the San Pedro submarine base were in charge of the funeral service at Sunnyside Cemetery. His brother Derrell (1886-3/26/1920) is also at Sunnyside. Derrell died in 1920 from wounds and exposure incurred during the war. Brother Fred survived and helped support his mother, he died in 1964 (3/9/1890-9/17/1964) and is buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. 
Named for Arthur Lincoln Peterson,
killed September 12, 1918.
     Many of those Long Beach/Signal Hill lads who died are buried in France and Belgium. Five are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D. C. Long Beach American Legion Post No. 27,  was named for Arthur Lincoln Peterson who was killed on September 12, 1918, while leading a voluntary advance to cut barbed wire before a troop invasion. Corporal Peterson is buried in the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial in Lorraine, France.  
   Some Long Beach men never made it to the war. Homer T. Rathbone (7/25/1894-1/23/1918) died at Camp Greene Hospital in North Carolina. Walter Lawrence Wickham  (9/29/1897-10/8/1918) died while on a ship in the harbor at Liverpool, England. Harold Moughan Ketels  (9/16/1896-10/29/1918) died just prior to receiving orders to report to Nautical School, at Washington D.C. Charles Edwin Livingstone  (11/18/1891-11/4/1918) was receiving training in Delvin, Washington, when he passed away. Mundie Woodard, George Tupper, and Theo Robinson also never made it to the war. All seven men had one thing in common. They all died of influenza. 

Walter Wickham
Howard Ketels
Charles Livingstone

          Following a tribute to the returned war heroes and to those who would never return, the Mayor adjusted a white silken streamer diagonally across the banner, partly obliterating the numbers on the service stars, indicating the closure of this chapter in the history of the City of Long Beach.  For sixty seconds, the three thousand people in attendance stood in silent reverence before the service banner, bidding unspoken farewell to the flag that for more than two years had stood as a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by residents of Long Beach during the Great War.
          As indicated on the blue and gold banner, 2437 Long Beach men and women had gone to war; 50 of them did not return.  In comparison, 9000 cases of influenza were reported in Long Beach between October 1, 1918 and February 1, 1919; 148 Long Beach residents died.

         The flu buried more than 50 million people throughout the world in eighteen months.  The death rate stunned physicians.  It took the battlefields of France four years to kill 15 million men but the flu did the same work in much less time.  In the United States alone more people died of the flu (550,000 adults) in 1918 than the U.S. military lost to combat in both world wars, Korea and Vietnam.  In Alaska, whole Indian villages disappeared while India lost more than 12 million people.  Adults with flu finished a poker game or army drill one minute, only to drop dead the next.  Although the epidemic initiated the biggest plague die-off in world history, it is remembered, when it is remembered at all, as no more than a bad outbreak of "the flu."
          So remember to get your flu shot!