The Beginning of War
Anthony Basilone was 16 years old, living in Collinwood with his parents and younger brothers. Sometime after 1 o'clock on Dec. 7, he had to run an errand to his uncle's shoe shop on Ansel Road at East 82nd and St. Clair. He found everyone there exchanging the news they'd just heard about the attack in Hawaii.
Doug Handyside, then a senior at Oberlin College, was indulging his weekly habit of listening to the live radio broadcast at 3 p.m. by the New York Philharmonic. That Sunday, the music was interrupted by a bulletin on Pearl Harbor.
Handyside says he'd suspected for a while the United States would be pulled into the war, and so wasn't surprised by events. "I didn't really get that much of a shock out of the announcement," he recalls. "It didn't sink in until [that evening]."
He supplemented his scholarship by working in various kitchens around the college, and that night, his partner on the job was an older graduate student in the theological seminary, a Japanese man. "I got to washing pots and pans or whatever with this Japanese fella who was just .... white and shaking." The man's wife and children were still in Japan.
Six months later, Handyside was in preflight school on his way to becoming a Navy pilot.
Michael Scullin, then 27, was an able seaman sailing his fourth year on the Great Lakes. He remembers the commencement speaker at Lakewood High School in 1932 telling his class, "The world is just waiting for you."
"I woke up the next morning," says Scullin. "The world was waiting for me and for 12 million other guys that were unemployed." "The world was waiting for me and for 12 million other guys that were unemployed."
He managed to get work at a motor express company, replacing a man injured on the job. In 1937, he joined the merchant marine and considered himself lucky. The 1941 season found him wheelsman on the steamer Ishpeming. On Sunday, Dec. 7, Scullin's boat was tied up, waiting to unload at Wickwire Steel in Buffalo, N.Y., when he headed ashore for late-morning mass. On the way back, the second mate of the boat unloading ahead of the Ishpeming told him the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Another Kind of Enemy
In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, many people referred to the terrorist attacks as "another Pearl Harbor."
While there are similarities in terms of the nation's unpreparedness for both strikes, and warning signs that were missed, there are also significant differences. The number of dead in New York alone is more than double the 2,388 military and civilians lost in the Japanese attack that plunged the America into World War II. And only poor planning and overzealous secrecy prevented the Japanese from formally declaring war before
the air raid commenced, as was its intention. The targets, moreover, were legitimate military assets.
"It was not like Pearl Harbor," Maud Drane says firmly. "I would say [Sept. 11] was much worse. This was against innocent civilians."
She adds, "At least [at Pearl Harbor] you knew who you were up against and they were all there for military purposes."
Navy veteran Frank A. Read acknowledges that the loss of life in the terrorist attacks was much greater and that it was the first real assault on "the homeland," but he adds that "I think the effect on the American public was much less than Pearl Harbor because of the war going on in Europe at the time in '41 and the knowledge that we had a concrete foe to battle against that made a lot of difference.
"I think the coming together of the Americans in '41 was so much greater than it has been now. ... A year after Pearl Harbor everybody was mobilized: the women were going to the factories, the men were going to the war and everybody was affected. Now, that's not the case."
"People were more helpful during that war than they've ever been since, so far as I can find out," agrees fellow Navy vet Doug Handyside. "Even after this business of Sept. 11 ... the spell seems to have kind of worn off.
"In World War II, everybody was accommodating. People just went around all over the country, just helping one another out. I miss that this time. We don't seem to have that."
"They were so patriotic," Drane says of the American public during the war. "Oh, you can't believe it. I mean everybody was agreeing then and it brought everybody together. It really made you realize what things were important and what weren't. It was a remarkable time."
After Dec. 7, there was no more business as usual.
Scullin hurried aboard his own boat and the crew switched on the radio to catch news bulletins. "A lot of people didn't know where the hell Pearl Harbor was," he recalls. "I said, ‘I think it's over in the Philippines or some damn place.' "
In short order, a pair of armed U.S. Coast Guardsmen was posted on every lake boat. In port, they stood ladder watch and no crewman could get back aboard without a special pass. The Army set up antiaircraft guns to protect the Soo Canals in Michigan. Security had already been tight across the water at Ontario's Algoma Central steel mill, ever since Canada joined the war alongside Britain.
While Scullin was on the lakes, his wife of just under a year, Catherine, worked as a dental assistant. On Dec. 7, a fellow hygienist was visiting their little apartment on West 110th Street, just off Detroit Avenue. The two women had the radio playing while they made the bed.
"The announcement came over the radio and my friend got so excited," Catherine remembers. "She got so excited she ripped the bedspread. I guess she just wanted to get out of the house."
In the winter of 1941, Michael Scullin obtained his lake pilot's license and the next year shipped out on the lakes as a third mate. Though exempt from the draft, he tried to join the Navy, but was turned away. "I showed 'em my [pilot's] license and he said, ‘Take a walk. We need you up here.' "
Basilone, whose father had been "swore in as a citizen in one room and drafted in the other room" during World War I, didn't wait for the draft. "I figured if they don't catch me today, they'll catch me tomorrow," he says. Ten months after Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for the Navy on the day he turned 17, the minimum age for acceptance.
But he couldn't be sworn in without signed permission from his parents. Basilone had been rebelling against his old-school Italian father's iron rule. "We never saw eye to eye," he remembers. "I told him. I said, ‘Pa, you want me out of your hair, you have to sign.' So Pa did."
Basilone served for 35 months aboard the U.S.S. Yolo, a Landing Ship Tank (LST) converted to carry 400 tons of food and supplies. His only major campaign was Okinawa in the Pacific, two days before the U.S. invasion and 89 consecutive days after. Working around the clock, the Yolo kept the Navy destroyer screen fed.
"We almost took three hits at Okinawa," he says. "They'd suicide-job right where we were at [a moment before]."
Conditions were rough at home, too.
"I had two little kids by the time [the war] got bad," Catherine Scullin says. "I had a book of ration stamps and no food. Unless you knew someone, you couldn't find meat or you couldn't find cheese or eggs, any of the produce, because it all went into the service.
"I remember one night I fed my children cauliflower. That's what they had for dinner. What kind of a meal is that?"
"I had no conception how [the war] affected the civilians," admits former Navy nurse Lucille Reeves. "It just didn't dawn on me until much later in the war when I realized how much they suffered when they began rationing, and we could get things [in the military that they couldn't]." "I remember one night I fed my children cauliflower. That's what they had for dinner. What kind of a meal is that?"
The End of the War
Anthony Basilone was in the Philippines, preparing for the invasion of Japan, when word came of the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrender. "Thank God for that," he says, guessing that casualties in such an invasion would have been staggering.
After six months of occupation duty in Yokohama, he was discharged and returned to Collinwood. He landed an apprenticeship at TRW, and spent his career in the machine shop there. At 75, he remains active at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4358.
Doug Handyside served most of his Navy hitch stateside as a flight instructor, transport co-pilot and then a member of a test wing flying four-engine R5Ds in California. But his duties also took him to the Philippines, Kwajalein and Guam during the war. He finished up as a full lieutenant and returned to Oberlin in May 1946 to finish his English and music education degrees.
He taught in California before becoming director of instrumental music for the Oberlin school system. A widower, he now plays double bass (and, on rare occasions, tuba) with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra and Lorain Civic Orchestra, as well as "such Dixieland gigs as I can pick up."
Michael Scullin was on the lakes when the war ended. He remembers a landward rush of lake-boat crewmen who had ridden out the war on deferrals because of the vital nature of their work. "When the war ended, why, they quit and went ashore and got shore jobs." Scullin tried that route, too, but quickly discovered that if you didn't have a military discharge no one was interested in hiring you.
"So I went back on the boats and I stayed there till I was 63," he says. He sailed the lakes for 40 years, ending his career with International Harvester's fleet. "I'm 88 and a half and when hell is hot enough I'll be called," he concludes.
He and Catherine will celebrate their 60th anniversary next month. Catherine's younger brother was wounded in the arm in Europe in 1944, which got him off the line just two days before the German breakthrough that opened the Battle of Bulge. Michael's youngest brother, who was nearing his discharge date from the peacetime Army just before Pearl Harbor, was killed in Alsace-Lorraine 14 days after arriving in France.