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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

Reedites at War

The students sat together in the chapel on that Monday morning, the day after the Japanese attack, mostly quiet, perhaps looking at each other or glancing at the high ceiling, or lost in thought as they looked out the windows at the wintry December sky. The voice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president many of them had known since childhood, rang out from the radio.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Though the phrase is part of a larger historical record—it is perhaps the quintessential sound bite of America’s march to become a superpower—on that day it was just one among many responses to a new and frightening future.

The ensuing convocation in the chapel stayed with Eleanor May ’45, who recalled Professor Barry Cerf leading the gathering. She remembered the scene vividly in a 2001 interview: “I’d been home the day before, and so I already knew about it. But somehow it hadn’t struck me until I was in this convocation with most of the student body. I remember bursting into tears and running into that little room. It seems funny, because nobody else was crying. I don’t know why I had this thing about it, but anyway, I did.”

After the news broke, Ann Stearns Whitehead ’44 said, the atmosphere on campus shifted abruptly, and abstract disagreements evaporated almost overnight. “I hadn’t paid that much attention to foreign policy and things that were happening. And I don’t know that anybody else had a whole lot. It was tremendous discontinuity, because here we were, in the midst of this kind of silly play thing. And then suddenly we were at war. I remember everybody in the commons was singing patriotic songs and the whole atmosphere shifted and the draft suddenly became much more serious.”

The day after the big Doyle Owl party and the Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet, Carroll Hendrickson ’42 and his cousin, Ames Hendrickson ’48, were among the many Reed men who figured they ought to act on their own before the army did it for them.

“My cousin Ames was in Eastport, and they had a big open house that night, December 7,” Hendrickson recalled. “The day after Pearl Harbor, December 8, Sam McCall [’42] and I didn’t know what the hell to do. We’re calling around to the Chinese consul to see if we can drive trucks on the Burma Road. We went to the Royal Canadian Air Force office to see if we could join them. We went to the Merchant Marines. They all said ‘no’ because of what happened the day before at Pearl Harbor. ‘We don’t know what the situation will be, so you’ll have to bide your time.’” That was the universal response in a country newly at war.

Fred Rosenbaum’s motivation for his early military career was both savage and understandable. Rosenbaum, now 81 and battling cancer, fled the Nazi conquest of Vienna in 1938, eventually landing with a small cohort of Jewish refugees in the rough-and-tumble logging town of Aberdeen, Washington. Though he wound up stationed in the Philippines, away from most of the fighting, he volunteered for the army, figuring to be a paratrooper and interpreter.

“I wanted to go to Europe,” he said in his oral history. Listening to the interview, one hears a pause, and then Rosenbaum’s voice softens. “God—I don’t know how to tell you that. I wanted to kill as many Germans as I could get into rifle range. I couldn’t wait to get going.”

Male students in lounge

Male students juggled their studies and their draft notices after the U.S. entered the war.

Mail call

AT War

CHARLES JOHN ENGBERG ’44 AMP

I did not fit in the normal army life because I did not smoke or drink, and therefore the bars were not for me. I never saw or heard of anyone playing cards. The schedule was so heavy and the consequence of failure was so severe that you were pleased to get all your homework done correctly and turned in on time. Being ruled by the Army Air Corps prevented us from having a normal college experience. Remember, all our time was controlled from the time we got up, through all our daily activities, to bedtime.

M. JEANNE HANSEN GORDNER ’46

One of my really good friends had come from Germany. We were having dinner at his house one time. His mother was not Jewish, but her second husband was—a doctor. And at first they were sure that he was not in danger, because “nice” Jews were not going to be badly treated. But at the time of the [1936] Olympics she was down in this parade. She said far off you could hear the roar of drums starting and distant voices shouting. And it very slowly built up, until they were closer and closer and closer. She said it was so exciting, and she was shouting, “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” And she looked down, and here’s her little boy going, “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” And Hitler went by, and all of a sudden she realized, we have to get out. If I am carried away with this, we are not safe. . . . that was really something that was solidified for me. The horror—that terrible horror that war was.

LUCILLE HARRIS PIERCE ’43

The thing I remember particularly being incensed about—and a lot of talk about—was when they took all the Japanese people away in Portland [Executive Order 9066, leading to Japanese internment along the West Coast]. I had one friend [Midori Imai Oller ’42] who was a student at Reed. And I kept in touch with her. She and her family were, of course, taken over to one of the internment camps [Tule Lake, California]. She had to interrupt her college, and I felt that was very wrong. Some of the kids on campus felt even—most of us didn’t think it was right. But a few thought, well, this is wartime, you have to do that sort of thing.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007