War's shadow fell on Christmas Observances: The attack on Pearl Harbor and the defeat at Wake Island brought a sober feeling to the holiday in 1941.


Marylanders were still numb nearly two weeks after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, as they prepared to celebrate the nation's first wartime Christmas since 1917.

However, shortages and rationing hadn't yet become a way of life. They would soon enough, but, for the moment, luxury goods were still available in the city's department stores. Baltimore's factories, shipyards and aircraft plants were gearing up for wartime production.

"War's bloody hand lay heavy this Christmas Day upon a tortured world," said The Evening Sun.

At the White House, The Sun reported, "it is truly a different Christmas for the Roosevelts, for whom the holidays in years past have meant a gathering of the family. None of the Roosevelts' five children (the four boys are in active service) or any of the eleven grandchildren will be present."

Both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke during ceremonies on Christmas Eve, with the The Sun quoting the president as saying: "When we make ready our hearts for the labor and the suffering and the ultimate victory which lie ahead, then we observe Christmas Day -- with all its memories and meanings -- as we should."

In Baltimore, The Evening Sun reported that even war could not change one truth about the holiday: "Tonight is Christmas Eve. Santa Claus rides again."

However, as Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day, thoughts invariably turned to those who wouldn't be home for the holidays.

A full-page advertisement in both The Sun and Evening Sun showed a lonely soldier on guard duty somewhere on the front. It reflected the somber mood of servicemen and civilians alike.

"That there may always be a Christmas Somewhere under the stars tonight a man is standing guard over all the things he holds dear," read the caption.

"He is thinking about the Christmas season at home about those he loves about the happy voices of children about the gayety and warmth and cheer. About all the things worth fighting for."

In a Christmas Day editorial, The Sun said: "On Christmas morning, in wartime, these virtues seem somehow more important. We have taken up arms; we are intent on destruction and death. We celebrate, nevertheless, the birthday of the Prince of Peace."

Baltimoreans also awakened that morning to headlines in The Sun that told of the surrender of Wake Island.

"WAKE ISLAND GIVEN UP AFTER 14-DAY BATTLE BY ONLY MARINES. Wake Island's Marine Garrison Commander Native of Maryland," said The Sun, in a story that began:

"Washington, Dec. 24 -- "Hope for the Marines on Wake Island was finally given up today, with the Navy Department's admission that the gallant defense was over. Nothing can yet be stated of the fate of the little garrison, composed of Major James P. S. Devereux, formerly of Washington, the commander, and his men."

The attack began on Dec. 9 and continued for the next 14 days until Major Devereux, after killing 820, wounding 333, sinking four warships, damaging eight others and shooting down 21 airplanes, surrendered. He and his men spent the remainder of the war in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

"In its report on the defense of Wake Island by fewer than 400 Marines against overwhelming Japanese attacks for two weeks, the Navy Department does well to liken the fight made there to the historic stand at the Alamo. Wake is, indeed, the Pacific Alamo of 1941," said a Sun editorial.

"Such heroism as was displayed at Wake Island is never in vain. We shall remember it -- and so will the Japanese. The Alamo, too, was overcome at heavy cost, by a vastly superior force. But the war in which the name of the Alamo spurred men into battle was won. So will the spirit of fewer than 400 men on Wake animate the 130,000,000 who honor them."

The day after Christmas, Churchill told a joint session of Congress, "I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate that in the days to come the British and American peoples will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together side by side in majesty, justice and in peace."

In a New Year's Eve editorial, The Evening Sun warned of the struggle yet to come.

"Rather than pay such a price -- a hint of which was given at Pearl Harbor and in the bombing of helpless Manila -- we cheerfully dedicate whatever part may be necessary of our incomes, our comforts and even our lives to the frustration of the totalitarian conspiracy. We shall pay huge taxes and go without normal creature comfort and we may have to make still more terrible sacrifices. But the Japanese have shown us what to expect if we turn back. And we aren't turning back."

Three more Christmas seasons would pass before the war was over and Marylanders were again home with their families singing the old hymn "Peace on Earth and Good Will To Men."

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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