Pearl Harbor anniversary: It still lives in infamy

Today, marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan and the official entry of the United States into World War II. These stories are excerpted from the book, "Home Front Baltimore" (Johns Hopkins University Press).

Watching "the Mikado" the night after the day that "would live in infamy"


On the evening of Dec. 8, 1941, along with the war news, Baltimoreans were confronted with this irony: Gilbert and Sullivan's very popular "Mikado," the classic spoof of manners and morals set in an earlier era in Japan, was playing at the Ford's Theater (Fayette and Eutaw) that evening. Sun critic Donald Kirkley would report, "The audience was quite small and not as demonstrative as Mikado audiences usually are. The reason may be simply the Japanese setting from today's newspaper headlines." That conclusion would appear to be reasonable, considering that while the lead character in the operetta, Nanki-Poo, was proclaiming, plaintively, that he was but a mere, poor and powerless "wandering minstrel," thousands of Japanese soldiers were boldly striking Malaya and Hong Kong, Guam, Wake and Midway. Before the show, John Little, the manager of Ford's, came on stage front to assure the wary audience, "About the show tonight, it's all in fun." Subsequent reports suggested that few were having any.

Sergeant Blum, missing in action, comes home anyway


On a night in late May or early June of 1944 (exact date unknown), an American bomber, having completed its mission in Italy, was flying back to its base when it took flak and burst into fire. The crew prepared to abandon ship and parachute out when they discovered that their gunner was suffering from a shrapnel wound in his leg; worse, loss of blood had rendered him unconscious, unable to parachute out on his own. The crew members made a decision: they strapped the wounded gunner into his parachute, threw him out of the plane and pulled the rip cord, sending the wounded and unconscious gunner to drop slowly into enemy territory. When the gunner hit the ground he came to, to discover that German soldiers had seized him and that now he was prisoner of war in Yugoslavia.

He was Sgt. Bernard Blum, from Baltimore, the son of Mr. and Mrs. David Blum of 3116 Tioga Parkway. He graduated from Baltimore City College in 1942 and later that year joined the Army. In November of 1943 he married Shirley Kirsch, and they lived at 2216 Loyola Southway. Sergeant Blum had gone overseas early in 1944.

In September 1944, his wife received word that her husband was alive but a prisoner of war in Germany. Then, for weeks, she heard nothing.

In January of 1945, Mrs. Blum received a visitor. He was Lt. Walter Sabathian of Chicago. He had been a member of the flight crew when her husband had been shot down. He wanted to say hello to the wife of his crewmate and to share with her his concern for his welfare, and the hope that he was safe and would come home soon.

A few weeks after the war in Europe was over, Mrs. Blum received a cablegram from her husband — he was alive and well in a camp in France. A few weeks later, she received a letter saying that he would be home soon. And he was.

And I know this because after making at least 30 phone calls, I found her, alive and well. She added a few details and corrected a few others.

When Sergeant Blum parachuted out of the plane, he didn't land in Yugoslavia; he landed in Albania. A farmer came running out to meet him, carried him into his farmhouse, and served him a meal. He said there was a doctor living nearby and he would go and bring him back to provide Bernard with badly needed medical aid. But it turned out that the farmer didn't go for a doctor, he went for the police — who arrested Bernard. Within weeks, he was a prisoner in Stalag 17 — from the movie of the same name.

About his coming home: She said, "I will never forget it. We had a shore home down on the Magothy River and so our family went down there to spend a few days. One afternoon we heard a car coming up the road, and shouting. We went out to see what the commotion was. We saw a few heads poking out of the car's windows, and the passengers hollering and waving. One of the men was my husband! He had gone to our house in the city, didn't find me, and, with others in my family, headed for our shore home. We fell into each other's arms. We stayed clinging. The family had to pry us apart."


Mrs. Louisa Reynolds, at 93, remembers Pearl Harbor

"My husband and I were living at 1103 St. Paul Street," remembers Louisa Reynolds. "I was alone in the house when I heard the news on the radio, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor! It was such a shock! My husband was out, working on our boat at the Maryland Yacht Club, when he heard the news, and he rushed home. We knew war was imminent, but still, we were truly shocked at the news.

"Within days, I was working downtown for the Red Cross, somewhere in the Mount Vernon area, I believe. I worked there six days a week through to the end of the war. I learned to take blood. I always wanted to give them my own blood, but they never would take it. Never missed a day's work in the four years of the war. We were taught what to do about casualties, should we be attacked. My teacher was Mrs. Haussner of the restaurant Haussner's. She was a demon, but she made the hard work exciting.

"To me, rationing was among the most discomforting of the many problems of wartime in Baltimore. That, and the blackouts. I remember those ration books — everything seemed to be rationed. Coffee, and tea in particular, seemed hard to get. I'd stand in line at Lexington Market to get a roast — once in a while we could get beef or pork. Chicken was easy to get, because, I guess, we raised a lot of them locally. You had to have a good relationship with your grocer. I did. You always had to have coupons. Always, always there were the ration coupons.

"We didn't go out much, we sailed our boat, but we didn't go downtown to the movies or theater. We didn't have much company, either. Getting the food together was one of the problems. Everything seemed so scarce. My husband and I were always worried about how the war was going.

"Then, there were the blackouts. How I hated the blackouts! I can still hear those sirens, and then remember that one, two, three — the lights would go out, wherever you were. I will never forget those sirens. Look, the war changed our lives forever.


"You cannot know the worry we went through; most of us had family in the war. There was always this worry. The war was always in our conversation, in our lives. There was no escaping it. Those screaming sirens … and the relief when the siren rang out the all clear.

"I was always worried. Worried about the soldiers, worried how the war was going, worried about the lines you had to stand and wait in. Always the lines. For food. For gas …

"Do I still think about the war at my age? Yes. We all had shutters, and I remember when the siren sounded we rushed to close the shutters.

"I don't have to close the shutters anymore."

Gilbert Sandler is the author of "Home Front Baltimore." His Baltimore Stories are frequently heard on WYPR 88.1. His email is