Today is the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The event shocked the population of a nation who had been enjoying a typical American Sunday…until they received news of the attack that damaged or sank the entire U.S. fleet which resided in Pearl Harbor. The devastation that occurred wasn’t contained to property or the immediate aftermath of the attack. Many military personnel were injured or died and collateral damage was widespread, stretching from the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans to the tragedy of years of war.
Among those military personnel serving in Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack was my husband’s grand uncle, James M. Newell. Uncle Jimmy served as a “lookout man in the crow’s nest on one of the American warships.”2 He was on board one of the fleet ships when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. Soon after news of the attack was published, his death was reported on 12 December 1941 in The Wichita Eagle3 and also in The Emporia Gazette.4 But unlike many military personnel, Jimmy’s story doesn’t end there. He was not one of the many casualties of Pearl Harbor, though for at least five days his family thought he was. On 3 January 1942, The Emporia Gazette reported: “Mr. and Mrs. Harry Newell, Wichita, have official word their son, James M. Newell, 18, was not killed in the Pearl Harbor attack as they previously had been notified. Five days after being notified the soldier had been killed, the Newells received a card from him.”5
What an emotional roller coaster that must have been for the family. It must have been devastating to receive the news of his death. And how joyous it must have been to receive Jimmy’s subsequent card. And what an experience for young Jimmy. Newspapers say he was 18 when Pearl Harbor occurred. He couldn’t have been in the Navy for very long and must have just finished his training not long before December 1941.
An original copy of the newspaper containing the front page article announcing young Jimmy’s death hangs, framed, in the hallway of my in-laws’ house. It was quite an eye-catching piece for a confirmed genealogy-addict like myself and I couldn’t resist asking for details about it. My most-wonderful-father-in-law very much enjoys telling a good story and was happy to share Jimmy’s tale with me. What perseverance it took for the men and women of that time period to gather the shattered pieces of the world they knew and move forward.
“The miracle, or the power, that elevates the few is to be found in their industry, application, and perseverance under the promptings of a brave, determined spirit.” Mark Twain6
“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Christopher Reeve7
Please take a moment to remember all military personnel today. If you see one, thank them for their service. “All gave some and some gave all.”8
1 “Attack on Pearl Harbor Japanese planes view” by Unknown – Official U.S. Navy photograph NH 50930.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_Japanese_planes_view.jpg#/media/File:Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_Japanese_planes_view.jpg
2 “James M. Newell Is First Reported Casualty of City,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS), [12 December 1941], p. 1: col. 1; microfilm image.
3 “James M. Newell Is First Reported Casualty of City,” The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, KS), [12 December 1941], p. 1: col. 1; microfilm image.
4 Unknown Author, “Wichita Sailor Killed at Sea,” The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, KS), electronic newspaper, archived, (https://www.newspapers.com/image/10245496/?terms=james%2Bm.%2Bnewell: accessed 7 December 2015), p.8, col. 5.
5 Unknown Author, “Good News,” The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, KS), electronic newspaper, archived, (https://www.newspapers.com/image/10248545/?terms=james%2Bm.%2Bnewell: accessed 7 December 2015), p.1, col. 2, para. 1.
6 Mark Twain, William Dean Howells and Albert Bigelow Paine, The Mark Twain Autobiography + 3 Biographies (e-Art Now Editions, 2014); digital images, Google Books, https://books.google.com (https://books.google.com/books?id=fmlCBAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=isbn:8026804643&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjA6Jag38vJAhVHtoMKHcyIBO8Q6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false: acccessed 7 December 2015).
7 Christopher Reeve, Still Me, (New York, The Random House Publishing Group, 1999), p. 267.
8 Cyrus, Billy Ray. Some Gave All. S.n, 1992. CD.
9 Untitled Photo of American Flag, Unsplash, digital images, https://unsplash.com (https://unsplash.com/photos/-rTqa1F_FaU: accessed 7 December 2015).