Excerpted and adapted from Haunted Holidays: Twelve Months of Kentucky Ghosts by Roberta Simpson Brown and Lonnie E. Brown
Americans remember Pearl Harbor Day each year on December 7. The surprise attack by the Japanese forces on that date in 1941 on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killed more than 2,400 military personnel and drew the United States into World War II.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it “a day which will live in infamy” and declared that no matter how long it might take to overcome the invasion, the American people would win through to absolute victory. The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan.
Pearl Harbor was a strategic military base in the Pacific. The U.S. Naval headquarters was there. The United States strictly enforced economic embargos, and Japan, trying to expand, suffered because of this. Nobody dreamed that the Japanese would dare attack the U.S. Navy. In the months that followed the Japanese attack, the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” swept the country.
Today, people across America hold ceremonies and give speeches to remember the sacrifice of those who died in the Pearl Harbor attack. On Pearl Harbor Day, dignitaries often honor the dead by placing flowers or leis in the water.
In 1994, Congress designated December 7 a day of national observance to honor those who died or were injured in the Japanese attack.
Pearl Harbor Soldier
Roberta was born in 1939 and Lonnie was born in 1937. As children we heard talk about the war every day, but we were too young to understand completely what was going on. We only understood that family members and friends were going away to fight in that war. Roberta tells this story about something that happened to her sister during the war.
When my sister Fatima was in her teens, she considered it a very pleasant duty to write to the soldiers she knew. Harsh censorship was applied to letters in those days. I can still remember how Fatima’s letters from the soldiers were sometimes cut into shreds because the government took out anything that might indicate where the location of the soldier might be.
One of our neighbors, Ray, who had volunteered for the army, was stationed in Pearl Harbor. Fatima wrote to him every week. Ray was very happy that he might soon get shipped back home.
December was approaching, and Ray’s family was very excited, hoping that he might be home for the holidays.
Every night, most families in our community gathered around their battery radios to hear news of the war that was being fought in Europe. My family did the same.
December came, and Fatima and I started the Christmas countdown.
“I bet if Ray gets home for Christmas, his mom and dad will give him a party!” said Fatima. “I know we’ll get to go!”
I knew she was right. When a soldier came home from wherever he was stationed, even if it was only for a furlough, the whole neighborhood rejoiced and wanted to see him.
Fatima and I went to bed early the night of December 6. The next morning, Fatima got up and was overjoyed.
“Ray’s home!” she told us. “I woke up and looked out the window last night. I saw him walking down the road on his way home!”
“He must be tired if he got in late,” said my mom. “He’ll probably sleep late and come over to say hello after he’s had a good breakfast.”
Then Dad turned the radio on. The news was tragic—unbelievable! We, along with the rest of the world, were shocked to hear about the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Looks like Ray got out just in time,” my dad commented.
The day went on, but Ray did not come to see us. Finally, Mom walked over to see Ray’s family and ask about Ray. She came home to tell us that Ray had not come home at all.
“But I saw him,” Fatima insisted. “I would know Ray anywhere.”
We didn’t know what to think. We thought Fatima must have been dreaming, although she was sure she wasn’t.
Finally, the waiting ended. Ray’s father came to tell us the news. The family had received a telegram saying that Ray was among the casualties at Pearl Harbor.
What had Fatima seen? Was it a neighbor that she thought was Ray? She was sure it wasn’t. It was her belief that Ray’s ghost had come back to walk down the road home one last time.