It was a day in my newspaper career that will live in infamy.
As hard as it might be to believe, the incident actually happened many years ago.
Lost in my work on a cold day during the first week in December — with Christmas music quietly playing over the office intercom — the sudden ring of the telephone on my desk startled me back to the reality of the moment.
An economic development official was on the other end of the line, and he had some really wonderful news for the community. A Japanese company was going to build a new factory in Hopkinsville, and the town fathers wanted to make the official announcement as soon as possible at a glad-handing, dog-and-pony show later in the week.
The excited official provided me with the time and day of the week for the event and asked me for a write-up in the paper so that the public and other interested parties would know to show up at the local industrial park.
Mr. Good News — a nice man, good at his job, who shall remain nameless to protect his dignity — sure was puzzled when asked point blank whether local officials had even bothered to look at the calendar before picking that particular day for their festivities.
It was left up to me to sound the warning bells about a rather sensitive situation. My words landed on him like a load of bombs: “You’re not really going to announce a new Japanese factory on Pearl Harbor Day, are you?”
There was a long, awkward silence from the obviously-embarrassed official, followed by a promise to get back to me soon with brand-new details for the big announcement.
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Times change, of course, and yesterday’s enemies in war often are today’s friends in peace.
According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, there are 191 factories with Japanese ownership throughout the commonwealth, employing nearly 46,000 people. At least 11 of those factories make their homes in Hopkinsville. No doubt, the jobs provided nowadays by one of America’s most reliable allies are much appreciated.
It’s certainly something that should be taken into consideration this coming Friday during the 77th national observance of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Still, history is what it is, and it shouldn’t be forgotten, especially for the sake of those who were around to live it.
In all, 2,335 American servicemen were killed and another 1,143 wounded in the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. Eighteen ships, including five battleships, also were sunk or run aground.
President Franklin Roosevelt — in a speech the following day to Congress that led to America’s entry into World War II — described the unprovoked attack as a “date which will live in infamy.” He was so right.
In Hopkinsville, just like everywhere else in the country back then, everybody was shocked by what had happened on the other side of the world.
The Daily Kentucky New Era — on Monday, Dec. 8, 1941 — carried a banner headline on the front page of its afternoon edition that read, “U.S., Britain Declare War on Japanese; 2 Warships, Many Planes Lost in Attack.”
As coincidence would have it, there also was a front-page story above the fold about a lecture scheduled to take place that very night at Hopkinsville High School. Thanks to the Rotary Club, Dr. No-Yong Park — an American-educated official from China — was in town to provide an insight into the 4-year-old war taking place between his country and Japan. During his speech, he laughed at the suggestion that the Japanese might conquer America.
Two days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Hopkinsville’s daily newspaper reported that at least 42 young men — ”aroused by Japan’s treachery” — already had rushed off to area recruiting stations to volunteer for the military.
In another story on the same day, an appeal was made to the public to help the country wage war by buying defense bonds and stamps. “The New Era urges all Americans to support your government with your dollars,” the paper declared in the article.
On Saturday, December 13th, in a full-page spread, the Daily Kentucky New Era became the first newspaper in Kentucky to publish a list of instructions for surviving an air raid. The U.S. Office of Civilian Defense in Washington, D.C., had released the information to the public in response to the apparent sighting of Japanese warplanes over California in the days after the Pearl Harbor attack.
“The bombing of Hopkinsville, a subject laughed at a few weeks ago, is not considered so far out of the question now…” the newspaper explained.
The war really hit home three days later on Tuesday, Dec. 16 when the local newspaper reported that a Pembroke family had received a telegram confirming their son’s death in the Pearl Harbor attack. James Earl Collins, a seaman first class in the Navy, died the day before his 22nd birthday.
It was only the beginning of Christian County’s many World War II deaths.
My own great-uncle and namesake — Robert Stanley Dollar, a 23-year-old sailor from Georgia — was there at Pearl Harbor, too, on that day of infamy so long ago. He and his shipmates on the USS Vireo — a minesweeper that later was reclassified as a fleet tug — survived the sneak attack and even managed to shoot down one of the enemy planes.
As it turned out, Uncle Robert had the title of Pearl Harbor survivor for less than a year. After participating in a big victory at the Battle of Midway, he eventually was killed in mid-October 1942 during the Guadalcanal campaign in the Solomon Islands. At the time of his death, he was taking part in a dangerous resupply mission for Marines who were badly in need of fuel and bombs at Henderson Field.
Pearl Harbor Day has, and always will have, special meaning for many Americans.
There never ever is a good excuse to be oblivious or ignorant about the past. Everybody should remember it and educate our young people about it.
The memory of what happened on that horrible Sunday must live on.
ROB DOLLAR was a reporter and editor for the Kentucky New Era for 20 years. A resident of Hopkinsville, he has authored three books on topics of local interest in recent years. He can be reached at email@example.com.