Pearl Harbor Day
December 7, 2010 by staff
Pearl Harbor Day, As we worked to decrease static electricity from the old radio tubes, our program has been interrupted by the announcement that Pearl Harbor was bombed. We were not happy, not because of bombing some place we’ve never heard of, but because we never found out what happened to “The Shadow” that day. We were too young to understand the attack was a declaration of war against Japan to the United States. A quick scan of an old globe in my room indicated Pearl Harbor was part of a chain of islands as the Pacific Ocean and that it belonged to America. That’s all we knew at the time.
Later that day, my parents returned from a walk in the afternoon Sunday in the country, and when I told them of the sneak attack, my father did not buy the story.
“We have to heal these stories junior high, the mother,” he said.
As the days and months passed, there was no doubt that Portsmouth has become one of the most patriotic nations. In no time, the Portsmouth naval shipyard work has gone from about 8,000 employees to over 24,000. From the beginning of the submarine fleet have been initiated every 40 to 60 days – those numbers a lot better as time went on – and they have proven to be one of the weapons systems the most effective World War II. Construction workers, men and women worked side by side 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week to support the war effort. The shipyard has set a record for building and launching the largest number of submarines during a calendar year – 31 in 1944. In the process, the construction time by boat was reduced from 469 calendar days in 1941 to 173 days in 1944.
Owners across the city to rent all the space they had to accommodate the thousands of workers swarmed the area – a vacant attic room here, a guest room there, the basement playroom, storage space above the garage. Living space has become a precious commodity in our town.
As we entered 1942, the army presence was very sensitive. Submariners highly qualified party in downtown before leaving for war patrol. The U.S. Marines barracks in the shipyard, one of the oldest in the nation, has doubled its capacity. Portsmouth Naval Prison, in business since 1908, came into overdrive as the number of sailors and Marines have increased. It was populated by people convicted of more serious offenses. I later discovered that Humphrey Bogart and Steve McQueen had Marine guards from the prison.
The mid-shore patrol assigned military joined forces with local police to maintain law and order in the city, especially on Friday night and Saturday. And the Coast Guard station in New Castle has increased its staff and responsibilities dramatically. After all, there were rumors that German submarines were right off the coast, spying on the comings and goings at the shipyard.
The NH National Guard has strengthened its training at the armory on Parrott Avenue, where the library is now Portsmouth. We children looked with astonishment on a Saturday that troops maneuvered around the area. Troop transport trucks and jeeps were still present in the streets of Portsmouth. And before the year ended, the Guard unit was called to active duty. The troops sent before a huge crowd of supporters, including the mayor and other local dignitaries and state.
In no time, the Coast Artillery became highly organized. They had the primary responsibility to protect the harbor entrance. They all inhabited the old forts on both sides of the Piscataqua River (Fort McClary, Fort Stark and Fort Constitution Odiorne Point), some of them dating from colonial times. And they built and inhabited watchtowers stretching from Florida to Canada. Even if they were American troops, they were armed with naval guns recycled, some so big they could easily run a shell of 16 inches the weight of a Volkswagen 25 miles offshore.
In 1943, open warfare was conducted on three fronts: the European and Pacific theaters of operation, and the Russian front. The Allies fought in Europe, the United States was largely alone to fight against the Japanese in the Pacific, and the Russians fought to drive the Germans invaded their homeland.
But the allied troops are not alone in their struggle. Here at home, rationing to support the war effort was part of everyday life. Households have been issued ration stamps that limited the amount of meat, butter, flour, sugar and some other food they could buy each month. Gasoline was rationed to the point that my father made our Dodge 1937 in storage every winter. He carefully removed the battery, drain the radiator and put the car on blocks for replacement tires. He would be back on the road for a limited and necessary once the wrong time.
Given the possibility that the enemy attacks our shipyard, a prohibition order was issued and strictly enforced by guard’s airstrike. We had to pull down the shades on each window of the house every night, and curtains were drawn to ensure that no light could be visible from the street. The guards regularly climb the north tower of the church clock in the center of Portsmouth to ensure that our skylights have been covered. Of course, the lighting in most regions has been extinguished, and cars were half blackened each projector, which makes night driving more exciting, I must say.
Living in the River shipyard, we heard all kinds of sound production, but surprisingly, we never saw a light in the night. We could hear the riggers shouting orders to the crane operators, the rat-a-tat of riveting, and the multitude of other staff working at their trades. Their voices carried across the river on a still summer night. It was a busy place. At one time the court has issued three submarines in a day. I did not know at the time, but as a group of teenagers sitting on Peirce Island, a stone’s throw from the river from the yard, my friends and I witnessed history in the making. I will never forget.
Although the collection and recycling of scrap was mandatory since shortly before the war, 1944 sticks in my mind. I remember one month all the families of the city had to collect 100 pounds of precious metal (copper, steel, pots and pans, bands, aluminum foil from cigarette packages).
Boy Scouts were generally responsible for collecting the metal and bring it to a recycling center. Schools compete with each other to see who could collect as much material. The Haven School in my neighborhood in South End, one of the oldest cities, has received top honors for its ability to treasure. My alma mater is still today, the residential condominium units.
The war ended almost as abruptly as it began. First, Germany surrendered shortly after Hitler committed suicide. Its unconditional surrender to the Allies was signed May 7, 1945. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15 and signed its peace treaty aboard the USS Missouri September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay. But before this happened, I witnessed a historic event, here at home.
I was 16 in early May 1945, and saw two German submarines towed up the river to the shipyard under the Coast Guard and Navy armed guards. From my favorite island in the river, I saw that the boats were transferred from their submarine caught in the prison of the Navy. All this took place just a few hundred meters from where my friends and I were standing.
And so ends an era that has been called “the greatest generation.” It certainly was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
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