“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…. With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
With these words 71 years ago the United States declared war with Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the US and thus began the US involvement in the conflagration know as World War II. For the US the war lasted four years, ending in Europe on May 7th 1945 and in Japan on September 2nd. Marked by significant events involving the mass death of civilians, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it resulted in 50 million to over 70 million fatalities. These deaths make World War II by far the deadliest conflict in all of human history. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million people serving in military units.
My dad was 14 living in Berkeley. Somewhere around the age of 12 or 14 he joined the Sea Scouts and fell in love with sailing and the water. Around 15, maybe younger because he did lie about his age, he joined a “Bay Waters Only” section of the Merchant Marines. As he grew more and more interested in being a part of the war, he brought home papers for his parents to sign telling them his participation would be for Bay Waters only. Without reading it through, they signed. It was full parental release for him to become a Merchant Seaman and off he went. They sent him to Cooks and Bakers school in Santa Catalina (which was taken over for Merchant Marines and Naval training). He was then assigned to a sea-going tugboat where he cooked for about 18 to 20 fellow seaman. While not a fighting ship, it did have guns and each seaman had a station if duty called. Their main job throughout the war was to tow portable dry docks from one Pacific island to another, where ever there was a need for ship repair.
He was in the Merchant Marines ages 15, 16 and 17 floating throughout the Pacific war zone. It was during a brief leave back for some R and R that he turned 18. He had not re-registered for the Merchant Marines, and while home received his Greetings letter from Uncle Sam commanding him to report to his draft board, which he did. Usually when one is drafted, they go into the Army, but because of his training as a cook and baker, they sent him over to the Navy. They also examined his eyes and found him to be 4F because of his poor eyesight (A 4F rating by the American Selective Service System meant you were physically unfit for service). However, still wanting to use his skills, they assigned him to a WAVES unit (women’s’ Navy at that time) located in Seattle, WA., where he cooked (with other sailors) for that branch of the military. I believe he entered the Navy in June of ’45 and the war ended in August of ’45. Not sure when he was discharged, probably somewhere in 46 or 47. As a sailor, he never set foot on a Navy vessel much to his disappointment.