Last week, I posted my first blog from my journal from the time when I was living in Grenoble, France. My experiences, the people I met, and the stories I heard gave me the idea to write The Shelburne Escape Line: Secret Rescues of Allied Aviators by the French Underground, the British Royal Navy, and London’s MI-9. Today’s post comes from my memories of that frightful day when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
December 7, 1941
Once when I was seven years old my parents had invited another couple to dinner. Their daughter and I had bundled up in our snowsuits to play outside in Illinois. Excited to tell our parents about a fox we’d just seen in the field behind our house, we ran inside. The adults were hovered around our floor model Zenith radio.
“Daddy, Mommy,” I shouted.
“Shut up!” my father snapped. I stood there shocked. That expression was not allowed in our house. (In fact, that was the only time I heard my father utter those words.) He quickly wrapped his arms around me and whispered that Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the United States was now at war. “We must listen to what President Roosevelt has to say,” my father said. Even at the age of seven I understood the seriousness of the situation.
The following day I sat quietly with my parents while they listened to President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressing the Congress and the Nation. “Yesterday . . . a date which will live in infamy . . .”
Two years later, we moved to Washington D. C. where my father entered government service. During the remainder of the war we would gather at night in the living room to listen to Roosevelt and Churchill and the BBC news broadcasts from England and Europe. Dinnertime discussions always centered on world news. Despite my young age, my parents included me in these discussions, treating me like an adult. What grew out of these experiences was a passion to read everything I could about this brutal period in history.
Years later while studying in France, I hung on every word spoken by the Jouvent family as they revealed their frightening wartime encounters. Their apartment faced the Isère River as the war against Germany and the Gestapo increased its presence and brutalization. Marcel and Susanne Tatoune recalled peering out their door at dawn one morning and seeing members of the Underground movement hanging from the lampposts along the river. The Gestapo had conducted a mass execution.
Marcel recounted that at midnight, he and Tatoune would creep up to their attic, tune in their shortwave radio at low volume and listen to the BBC news, which always began: “Les Francais parlent aux Francais.” (The French Speak to the French.)
“We didn’t talk to our neighbors in those days,” he said. “You never knew whom you could trust. Gendarmes, government officials, shopkeepers, teachers, students—people who seemed like they might be collaborating often worked for the Underground at night. But we never knew; we never asked.”