Pearl Harbor Day in Beckley
This column appeared in the (Beckley, W. Va.) Raleigh Register Dec. 6, 1981.
- A Sunday 40 Years Ago
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We didn't know that Dec. 7 had changed our world forever.