1,500 People Killed in Attack on Hawaii

This stunning proclamation was the headline on the front page of the December 8, 1941, edition of the Pueblo Star-Journal. I inherited the old newspaper from my wife, who discovered it in a collection of piano music her mother left her. The Star-Journal was far larger than today’s newsprint. At more than 16 inches wide and 23 inches tall, the yellowed, tattered paper impresses more like a billboard than a daily newspaper. Its bold headlines command attention, not merely inviting you to read the stories below but virtually insisting that you do.

Planes and Ships Destroyed By Japanese Air Attackers,” a secondary headline announces. “Roosevelt to Address Congress at 10:30 Today.”  “Great Britain Declares War on Japan andChurchill Telephones To FDR To Arrange Time of Declaration,” two others announce. Elsewhere on the front page:  Japanese Report Sinking Two American Battleships.”  “Thailand Agrees to Permit Passage of Japanese Troops.”  “Premier Tojo Warns Japanese to Prepare for Long Conflict.”  “Stock Prices Drop.”  “New York Police Round Up Japanese.”

We can easily imagine the dread people reading this front page on December 8, 1941, must have felt as they witnessed a seismic shift in their world, a shift that would cost millions of lives and embroil the world in another global conflict just twenty-three years after the end of World War I, the war they imagined would end all wars. Small wonder my wife’s mother kept this edition of the Pueblo Star- Journal. It recorded a landmark moment in her life, much as many of us recall September 11, 2001, and have kept newspapers detailing that catastrophe.

The U.S.S. Shaw blowing up. It would later return to service.
December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy

The Star-Journal got it wrong, of course, as all American newspapers did on December 8. Pearl Harbor occurred long before CNN and Fox News and far-flung journalists from the major media with their mobile phones, satellite feeds, Internet sites, and instant communications. It happened before we televised wars not only on the evening news but throughout the day on dozens of websites and “breaking news” television broadcasts. On December 7, 1941, more than 2,400 hundred Americans died during the Pearl Harbor attack, including 48 civilians. Another one thousand were injured. Two U.S. battleships were destroyed; six others were damaged, along with three cruisers, three destroyers, and four auxiliary ships. The Navy lost 92 airplanes; the Army Air Corps, 77. Fortunately, our aircraft carriers were at sea during the attack, so they were spared for the eventual defeat of the Japanese Navy during the Battle of Midway six months later.

The news from Tokyo on December 8 was no more accurate. They reported that a U.S. aircraft carrier had been sunk by a submarine off Honolulu (not true) and that “there were no Japanese losses in striking the heavy blows against the United States fleet at Honolulu.”  In fact, the Japanese lost 29 aircraft and five midget submarines, hardly significant give the scale of their invasion but their claim of no losses was the start of a parallel propaganda war the Japanese government waged throughout World War II to bolster Japanese public support for their war effort. The Japanese Navy lost no ships at Pearl Harbor, but only one of their ships participating in the attack had survived by war’s end.

Accurate or not, the war news in the Pueblo Star-Journal the day after Pearl Harbor would have shaken readers with the sheer breadth of the spreading global calamity:   “While Americans waited for some word from Washington of United States counter-blows, the Japanese reported that 50 or 60 U.S. planes had been shot down in air combats over Clark field, in the Philippines, and another 40 over Ibu, 80 miles north of Manila,” one story reported. In another, “The Japanese announced an agreement between Japan and Thailand for transit of Japanese troops thru Thailand—presumably for an attack on British Malaya, site of Britain’s great far east fortress of Singapore, or British Burma.”  The Philippines would be lost to the Japanese, as was Singapore in one of Britain’s largest surrenders of armed forces in its history. The Australians announced that the Japanese had attacked the island of Nauru in the Solomons, while the British relayed that Japanese troops had occupied a British concession at Tientsin in northern China. Elsewhere, German and Italian troops were advancing in the Donets basin (in southern Russia and Ukraine), although the German high command admitted that their operations on the east front in northern Russia were being “conditioned” by the arrival of the Russian winter.

It is fascinating, in hindsight and in the eighty-year lens we now have on the history of World War II, to read what was being reported on that chilly Monday so long ago, but we can imagine how dreadful it must have felt to read those words without knowing the outcome.

All was not doom and gloom in Pueblo, Colorado, on December 8, 1941. Even in wartime, life goes on. The Star-Journal reported on that day that the Chicago Bears defeated the Chicago Cardinals 34-24 and tied the Green Bay Packers for first place in the western division of the National Football League. The Bears’ win necessitated a playoff game with the Packers, and the winner would challenge the New York Giants, winners of the eastern division, for the league title. In another NFL game, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh threw three touchdown passes and the Washington Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14.

For twenty-five cents plus tax, you could see the movie Unholy Partners at the Main Theatre, featuring Edward G. Robinson, Edward Arnold, and Laraine Day. According to the ad, it was a “dynamite” flick “with bullets and headlines the screen’s toughest fight it out!”  Over at the Colorado Theatre, there were “two-trigger thrills” in Red River Valley, with Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes. Had I been in Pueblo at the time, however, I would have gone to the double feature at the Chief Theatre—Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion and Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon.

The John Huston-Humphrey Bogart classic film noir mystery was in its first run on December 8, 1941.

Curiously, this issue of the Star-Journal included one article about Durango on pg. 5—and repeated it verbatim on pg. 11. The editors must have needed to fill the space but had no more news to report. The headline read, Durango Will Get Large Ski Course:

Federal Funds for the construction of a ski course, located on the borders of Durango’s city limits, have been allocated by under the government’s WPA recreational program, and work on the course will begin at once.

If plans, as yet unapproved, are followed the course will be 1,000 feet long with a 200-foot width at the foot of the run. Unusual width is being given the course because the unusual steepness will necessitate a zigzag descent for less experienced skiers.

A towback will be constructed, and floodlights for night skiing.

Because the course is practically in the city, it will be ideal for youngsters unable to travel conveniently to more distant courses.

Eighty years hence, Durangoans know this course as Chapman Hill, and it is now well within the city limits.

Photo credits:  Exploding ship and video of Pearl Harbor: Shutterstock; Maltese Falcon poster:  Photo 120814101 / Maltese Falcon © Jerry Coli | Dreamstime.com

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Terry Bacon