Pearl Harbor Day in Beckley
- A Sunday 40 Years Ago

This column appeared in the (Beckley, W. Va.) Raleigh Register Dec. 6, 1981.


By JIM WOOD
Editor, the Raleigh Register

This is the way it was.

Beckley - forty years ago tomorrow. A Sunday. Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 1941. I was 16.

The weather forecast called for a fair and moderately cold day.

A double banner across the top of the front page of the Sunday Raleigh Register said:

Roosevelt Sends Note To 'Divine' Japanese Emperor
In Effort To Avert War In The Pacific

A large secondary headline declared:

Moscow In Direst Peril
Before Huge Nazi Force

But Beckley was not concerned with war that Sunday morning. The big story of the day was the town's new $600,000 dial telephone system. That previous Saturday night, at exactly 11:59, Murell Ralsten, a descendant of Gen. Alfred Beckley, the city's founder, pushed a button switching Beckley from operator-processed calls to automatic dial telephones. A front page photograph showed Mayor A. K. Minter dialing the first number - 9286 - the home of Beckley Chamber of Commerce President E. G. Larrick.

Later that day, the Beckley Elks Lodge held its annual memorial service for deceased members. The speaker was Father John Halpin of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church.

Shady Spring High School announced in the Sunday paper that a three-act comedy, "Aunt Minnie from Minneapolis," would be held the following day.

E. M. Payne Co. was holding a pre-Christmas sale on women's suede shoes - formerly $6.50 and $7.95 and reduced to $3.98 and $4.50. J. C. Penney was selling five-pound boxes of Christmas chocolates for $1 and one-pound boxes of chocolate-covered cherries for a quarter. Beckley Jewelry Store on Heber Street had 17-jewel Bulova watches for $24.75, United Dry Cleaners would clean and press men's suits for 25 cents, a new Electrolux sweeper was $49.50 and a 12-ounce Pepsi was a nickel.

The undefeated and untied Mullens High school Rebels were the 1941 state football champs and the Stratton High School Bulldogs were the 1941 champions in Negro football. School desegregation was still years away.

At the Lyric Theatre, Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard were featured in "Nothing But The Truth," and at the Beckley Theatre Deanna Durbin, Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings were starring in "It Started With Eve."

There were 15 shopping days until Christmas.

WJLS was the only radio station in town - today there are five - and every Sunday afternoon it carried the New York Philharmonic live from Carnegie Hall. The years have dimmed my memory of that concert but I think the featured work was Schubert's Eighth Symphony (The Unfinished).

Our radio was on during the concert but I was not listening. I was in the dining room with my mother, father and sister, having Sunday dinner. Our Boston bull terrier, Pug, sat patiently by, waiting for scraps.

Suddenly, one of my high school friends walked into the dining room and said, "The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor." He kidded around a lot. Somebody chuckled. My mother invited him to get a plate and join us.

Come on into the living room, he said. It's on the radio. I went into the living room and the concert was being interrupted every few seconds by bulletins confirming the Japanese attack. There was a special announcement from Beckley American Legion Post 32 announcing an emergency meeting for later that evening.

Another friend arrived soon. He had a part time job at the radio station, so we accompanied him to the studio on Main Street where we spent an hour or so reading the news bulletins as they appeared on the UP printer.

Later that afternoon the three of us walked down to Raleigh to visit another high school classmate - a girl. She was alone and we spent the rest of the afternoon just horsing around. I recall that at one point we took turns bouncing up and down on a bed. I don't know why. I guess it was because we were all very young and the war was still very unreal. We didn't talk about it much. Two years later, two of the three of us were in service along with most of the rest of the boys in the Woodrow Wilson High School class of '43. A few never came home.

As dusk fell, we made our way back to town and spotted a friend from Eccles who owned a car, a very popular fellow in those days because not many high school students had cars. He had parked on Heber Street in front of the Beckley Hardware store. We got in and talked abut the war and what branch of the service we would join.

Downtown merchants had put up a series of loudspeakers on Main, Heber and Neville streets for broadcasting Christmas carols, but that evening they had plugged them in to a WJLS line to carry the Pearl Harbor bulletins. President Roosevelt would address Congress the following day.

We listened to the war news and carols until about 9 o'clock, then separated and made our way home and to bed because Monday was another school day.

We didn't know that Dec. 7 had changed our world forever.

Return to Beckley history front page