I may have been a skeptic. I could remember when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley told us daily all the news we needed to know in 15 minutes. (And as a teenager, I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could watch The Hit Parade.)
But before Huntley-Brinkley, we had depended on radio and the newspapers to keep us informed. The newspaper news was tardy, of course, but radio was a wonder.
From the main piece of furniture in parlors and living rooms all over America in the 1930s and ’40s to a switch and dial on the dashboards of our cars, it was, and often continues to be, our reliable source of needed, immediate news.
I fancy in my memory the voice of FDR telling us we have nothing to fear but fear itself; but it may well be that I’ve just heard the recording so many times it’s embedded in my brain. During World War II, we heard the voices of Lowell Thomas and H. V. Kaltenborn, every night, every day, for those months and years, telling us of battles won and lost.
The same radio brought us badly needed laughter from the likes of Jack Benny and Amos and Andy.
Some of my earliest clear memories are of those days. I had just turned 7 when the Japanese attacked our base at Pearl Harbor. So what does a 7-year-old know of such?
Every facet of our lives seemed to revolve around the war effort. The women in the household had to go to work. As an innocent child, I was frightened when I heard a plane overhead.
Convoys of Army trucks were on our highways, flags denoting servicemen away or deceased were in many windows, and sometimes we had to pull our window shades to obey a blackout order. A rare trip to the movies would include newsreels direct from the battlefronts, giving us images to go with those radio descriptions.
Uncles and cousins came home on furlough. Ration stamps were as important as money. We bought savings bonds and planted victory gardens. Finally, the guns were silent, the war was over.
Our nation would participate in other wars since then. Battlefields changed. Weaponry changed. Even the definition of victory changed.
But one element, present in all of warfare, stayed the same. That is the element, the weapon if you will, of surprise. And history buffs often discuss this tactic of surprise and wonder how a nation could be so blindsided. But strategists are called that with good reason.
Our folks have pulled off a few surprises of their own. I dare say that every person who is reading the Tribune today has a memory of the surprise we all had on this date in 2001.
We all have stories of where we were on that beautiful Tuesday morning. My story is connected to the radio. Time was when we depended on early morning radio for news and the weather report and any Interstate 575 traffic that might affect Woodstock’s Main Street.
So the first news we had was that terse announcement of a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. I turned on the TV. Soon a glimmer of the true tragedy began to sink in, and the rest is history.
In the long hours and days that followed, as those scenes from Ground Zero and the Pentagon and that lonely Pennsylvania countryside seared their way into our minds, never to be erased, we struggled to understand.
For those of us who saw World War II only in movie newsreels, there was no comparison. This was a new battlefield.
The enemy attacked, but not to conquer and take prisoner, and not to colonize and rule and collect taxes. Much like the Japanese Kamikaze pilots, they would sacrifice their own to terrorize our way of life, our freedom, our very hearts.
Two of our grandchildren were 7 years old that year. These are the memories they will have. It’s up to us to give them some good memories as well, but to insist that they not forget this tragedy, this incident for which our language has no word to describe.
FDR might call it a date which will live in infamy. He might not tell us not to fear. He had said those words before Pearl Harbor, before the world changed, before the battlefield was moved.
But we have survived and our freedom is intact. And we have not forgotten.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian.