On the morning of December 7, eighty-one years ago, America was at peace, but we trembled on the brink of the abyss. In Europe, the Nazi war machine seemed almost unstoppable, and forward elements of the German army were in sight of the spires of Moscow. Japan had allied itself with Germany and Italy in a murderous embrace, and its military appeared poised for further conquests in the East. It had taken much of China and recently occupied French Indo-China. Horrified by the Japanese barbaric depredations in China, the United States had imposed an oil embargo on Japan, and Japanese diplomats had arrived in Washington in quest of a possible compromise. Unknown to us, Japan had already decided to attack us, and its fleet was approaching Hawaii.
The United States was totally unprepared for conflict. Eighteen months before this date the American army had been in a truly pitiable state, barely equipped to stand up to a third-class European power. The fall of France in June 1940 had awakened us to danger, and at that point we instituted the draft and started to rearm. But the attitude of many citizens was isolationist, and defense preparations proceeded very slowly. We were a long way from being ready for war. Included in our rearmaments program was an effort to build up the merchant marine.
On Saturday, December 6, 1941, my parents and I went to Wilmington, North Carolina, and witnessed the launching of the first Liberty Ship to be built there. Many more were to be constructed in Wilmington and in other ports around the nation. It was a very timely development. We had no idea how soon those ships were to be needed.
The following afternoon, after church services at Carolina Beach, we returned to Wilmington for a movie matinee. As we left the theater, we learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese.