75 Years Later: Pearl Harbor Remembered

Editor's column, December 8, 1941 edition of the Connecticut Campus

Editor’s column, December 8, 1941 edition of the Connecticut Campus

December 7, 1941 was a Sunday. In Storrs, UConn students prepared for end-of-the-semester exams and the upcoming winter break. That evening, History Professor Andre Schenker traveled to Hartford with his family to see a play. At some point, an usher approached him with an urgent message. Five thousand miles to the west, at 1:18pm that afternoon (7:48am Hawaiian time), Japanese naval and air forces had attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, inflicting heavy casualties and causing severe damage. Schenker immediately set off for radio station WTIC, where he served as a world affairs commentator. Later that night, he began his broadcast with the following words:

“It has happened. Japan has decided to commit suicide by attacking the strongest power on earth, the United States…As you all know by now, this morning in the Far East, which means this afternoon our time, a Japanese force suddenly attacked Manila, in the Philippines, and another force attacked the Gibraltar of the Pacific, our base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.”

(You can hear Professor Schenker’s full commentary on the attack here)

Maurice “Moe” Daly

Maurice “Moe” Daly

The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt called for a declaration of war against Japan, which led to Germany and Italy issuing similar declarations against the U.S. on December 11th. America had officially entered the Second World War.

Even as the students and faculty at Storrs processed the news, Connecticut alumni halfway around the world already found themselves in harm’s way. Major Maurice F. “Moe” Daly, a popular football player from the Class of 1923, was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines during the Japanese attack there on December 8th. After participating in its heroic defense, he would eventually be taken prisoner when Bataan fell the following April, and died in captivity.

The attack on Pearl Harbor signaled a major transformation in campus life at Storrs. Blackouts were put into effect, ROTC training was ramped up, and the pages of the student newspaper were increasingly filled with war-related news. Soon, male students and faculty members alike left the campus in droves to join the armed forces. At least 114 of them would not return after the war’s end in 1945.

Breaking news — 74th anniversary of the “day which will live in infamy”

Andre Schenker, 1930

Andre Schenker, 1930

About 1935, Andre Schenker, Associate Professor of History at UConn, began a regular broadcast series entitled “History in the Headlines” airing on WTIC.  The series provided context and analysis of current events for the listening audience. In a reminiscence, Dr. Schenker’s son remembers attending a performance in Hartford on the evening of December 7, 1941, when an usher came to quietly speak with his father. Immediately leaving the performance, Dr. Schenker went on the air later to share the breaking news. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States had declared war.

This and other broadcasts are available in the Schenker Papers held by Archives & Special Collections and online.


National History Day, “Turning Points,” and connecticuthistory.org

In the years that I have been a curator here in Archives & Special Collections I have been fortunate to work with a wide array of researchers, from academic scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, and genealogists to railroad fans, lawyers and preservationists, but I admit to you all right here and right now that I get the most satisfaction when I work with middle school and high school students, those who are at the early point of discovering the wonder and power of primary sources.   And one of the ways we get to work with young students is to help them find the resources they need for National History Day projects.

Never heard of National History Day?  Here is the description of the contest from the website at http://www.nhd.org/:

“Each year, more than half a million students, encouraged by thousands of teachers nationwide participate in the NHD contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. These products are entered into competitions in the spring at local, state and national levels where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates in the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest each June held at the University of Maryland at College Park.”

The theme for the 2013 contest is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events,” and connecticuthistory.org, a project of Connecticut Humanities, is helping provide primary sources to NHD students by creating a new series of essays called “Turning Points.”

Thomas J. Dodd at the Nuremberg Trials, 1945-1946, from the Thomas J. Dodd Papers

We here in Archives & Special Collections are collaborating with connecticuthistory.org by choosing materials from our collections and providing these sources and essays for students to use for their NHD projects.  Two of the essays are currently online (with more to come), which include:

Connecticut Lawyer Prosecutes Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg, which describes the work of Thomas J. Dodd, who served on the Executive Trial Council at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, and the tragedy of Kristallnacht, a turning point that unleashed the persecution of European Jews by the Nazi regime.

Reporting News of Pearl Harbor, which tells of how Andre Schenker, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut and a commentator for Hartford radio station WTIC in the 1940s, reported this shattering world event — a turning point in history if there ever was one — to his Connecticut listeners.

There are more “Turning Points” to come, so stay tuned.  Also, if you haven’t tooled around connecticuthistory.org then spend a few minutes with this extraordinary resource, reading the essays and looking at the unique photographs and documents.  There is a lot to learn there about the history of Connecticut!

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections