The shock experienced by Americans after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was the same feeling that gripped the United States decades earlier after the bombing of Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today.
The response of patriotism and a willingness to serve the country was similar, too.
The attack came at 6:05 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, and in several hours, the 350 Japanese fighter planes that invaded Pearl Harbor with a barrage of bombs and gunfire killed 2,403 people, 68 who were civilians.
Rose Mary Walker of New Iberia, then Rose Mary Rader, said she remembers that day vividly.
Walker said on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, she and five or six classmates from Mount Carmel Academy were at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans for the Junior Children of Mary Convention.
Walker, who was 15 at the time, said she didn’t learn of the attack until several hours after it happened.
“We had different meetings going on throughout the day,” she said. “I remember one of the sisters coming in and telling us the Japanese had attacked. We had to pack up and leave immediately.”
While attempting to return to New Iberia, Walker said she realized the nation was in for great change as their vehicle began crossing the Mississippi River Bridge in New Orleans.
“They already had soldiers guarding the bridge in New Orleans before we could even cross,” Walker said. “People really just didn’t know what was going on.”
Ted Uhall, a Pennsylvania native and longtime New Iberia resident, said he was 5 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but clearly remembers the state of confusion experienced on a national scale.
“I remember hearing the White House was going to be bombed next,” Uhall said. “So I thought that meant they were going to bomb the house I lived in because it was a white house.”
Yet, after the story made its way through the press, and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt announced the nation’s entrance into World War II, a shared commitment emerged among people of the United States, whether they were joining the war effort or contributing from their hometowns.
In the weeks following the attack, The Weekly Iberian began reporting of a number of local efforts to help the nation as it mobilized for war.
Within two weeks of the Pearl Harbor attack, The Weekly Iberian reported 5,503 volunteers from Iberia Parish registered for home defense.
The newspaper also reported on a number of other local war efforts, including a “Waste Paper for Defense” drive launched by Boy Scout troops and a statewide campaign calling for the donation of 1941 license plates.
“Louisianians were soon rummaging through attics, barnyards and back lots for waste paper, rags, metal and articles made of natural rubber to recycle for the war effort,” wrote Jerry Purvis Sanson in his book “Louisiana during World War II.”
Walker said she remembers the pinch being felt by Iberia Parish families in 1942, and recalled the ration stamp books issued by the government during the war.
“I remember you could only purchase 4 gallons of gasoline a week,” Walker said. “Sugar was also rationed around here. I know my family missed having their sugar.”
After graduating from Mount Carmel in 1942, Walker, whose older brother George Rader had left several months earlier to serve in the U.S. Army, said she too decided to serve her country.
In January 1943, Walker said she left New Iberia for New Orleans, where she began training to be a nurse at the Hotel Dieu nursing school, and in July that year, was admitted into the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. She was 18 years old.
Although Walker never left New Orleans, she continued to serve as a Cadet Nurse until President Harry Truman dissolved the corps in 1948.
Yet, during her time of service, Walker said she met her former husband George Walker, of Lubbock, Texas, who witnessed Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor from his base at Ford Island.
“He told me the guns on the island had all been locked up because everyone had pretty much gone out on pass,” said Walker. “He said he could see the Japanese dropping bombs, but from where he was, there was nothing they could really do but hide under their desks.”
New Iberia native Paul Schwing, now 84, said he was 14 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Schwing said he was at his house, with his 10 brothers and sisters on the day Japan attacked.
Four years later, Schwing turned 18, and like countless other Americans, he too joined the service in 1945.
“I remember we were on our way to a base in San Francisco Bay when they dropped the bomb,” Schwing said.
While “the bomb” quickly led to the war’s end, Schwing said he spent 14 months with the U.S. Navy and, thanks to his skill with a typewriter, remained at the base in San Francisco in the months after Japan’s surrender.
“I knew how to type, so they had me helping type discharge papers for all the soldiers to go home.”