A sleepy Sunday shattered by war Attack: It took a relatively long time for Baltimoreans to fully understand what happened on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.


Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, dawned clear and chilly as Baltimoreans went off to church or gathered later in the day for family dinners.

Others busied themselves working on Christmas gardens or window shopping in downtown department stores.

Moviegoers at the Hippodrome could take in "The Men In Her Life," which starred Loretta Young and Dean Jagger, while Keith's Theater was showing the Abbott and Costello comedy "Keep 'Em Flying."

The Sun that morning, however, carried a disturbing front-page bulletin:

"New York, Dec. 6 -- The British radio reported tonight that "two large and heavily escorted Japanese convoys were seen steaming toward the Gulf of Siam this morning."

Radio listeners could tune to WCAO and hear the New York Philharmonic broadcast or the Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants professional football game.

At 2: 25 p.m., radio listeners were shocked out of afternoon doldrums when the first bulletins announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese naval and air forces.

The Sun rushed a four-page extra edition onto the streets that carried banner headlines declaring: JAPS DECLARE WAR ON U.S.; Honolulu, Manila Bombed; NAVAL BATTLE OFF HAWAII.

"Honolulu, Dec. 7 -- Japanese bombs killed at least five persons and injured many others, three seriously, in a surprise morning aerial attack on Honolulu today."

The White House announced that "heavy damage had been inflicted in the Japanese attack on Hawaii and that there probably had been heavy loss of life."

An NBC reporter broadcasting live from the roof of a Honolulu building before he was cut off said, "We have witnessed this morning the attack of Pearl Harbor and a severe bombing of Pearl Harbor by army planes, undoubtedly Japanese. The city of Honolulu has also been attacked and considerable damage done. It is no joke; it is real war."

As word of the attack spread throughout the city, Baltimoreans rushed to Sun Square, at Charles and Baltimore streets, to read the latest news that flashed over The Sun's Trans-Lux electric board.

The bulletins, news flashes and radio reports quickly confirmed to skeptics that this was no Orson Welles replay of "The War of the Worlds."

The enormity of what happened began to settle into the minds of Marylanders and citizens across the nation as war news continued throughout the night.

On Dec. 8, grim headlines only hinted at the devastation of the DTC attack: U.S. DECLARES WAR; Senate Unanimous, House 338 to 1; 1,500 KILLED IN HAWAII.

When informed of the attack, Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor canceled all engagements for the day and immediately called a conference at the State House to discuss war plans for the state.

"What, then, our public needs most is patience," cautioned an Evening Sun editorial Dec. 8. "We must believe that this is going to be a long, hard war. We must prepare ourselves for setbacks. We must not let the news from day to day, some of which is sure to be unfavorable, blind ourselves to our potential strength, which must tell in the long run. The Japanese have written the Axis message in the blood of Americans. They shall have their answer."

The Sun said in its editorial: "We cannot and will not submit to the destruction of international honor, the levying of tribute on the weak by the strong, the parceling out of the world and its resources among self-appointed dictators of human affairs. Since force is to be the determining factor, we resort to force. Therefore we enter the conflict, which has thus been brought to us, with no sense of fear and no forebodings. We have the right on our side. We have unmeasured force. We shall win."

A small front-page story that day carried the news that there were six Jesuits from Baltimore working as missionaries in the Philippines, including the Rev. Joseph Kerr, a Loyola High School graduate.

Kerr, who had been sent to the Philippines in 1937 as a missionary, witnessed the Japanese invasion and bombing and was later imprisoned for the duration of the war at the Los Banos prison camp at Lipa on the island of Luzon with 2,146 other American and European civilians. He suffered malnutrition and starvation but was liberated by the Army's 11th Airborne Division in 1945.

He was decorated with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon, and after the war, he returned to teaching. From 1981 to 1994, he taught dramatics and elocution at Loyola High School.

Father Kerr died last April at the age of 92.

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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