Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
The early days of December, 1941, were much like any other year in Great Bend. Part of the seasonal holiday celebration locally was the Pet Parade, covered in last week’s Out of the Morgue. The tradition had grown to include not only pets, but hobbies too. On Saturday, Dec. 6, the parade occurred, with the grand prize awarded to a young boy, Bill Joe Spanier, 10, dressed as a WPA worker, and second place went to Carolyn Zinn, 12, dressed as a clown riding her shetland pony along Main Street.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wendell of Ellinwood welcomed their baby girl that day, and in the wee hours of Sunday, Dec. 7, Mr. and Mrs. Harry French of Hoisington welcomed their baby boy.
And while The Great Bend Tribune carried news of the war in Europe, and tensions were reportedly high between the United States and Japan due to that country’s maneuvers in Asia, and Australia and Britain were beginning to raise alarms, Japanese negotiators were still reportedly talking to their counterparts in Washington D.C.
First local casualty announced
But Monday’s paper painted a different picture of the world.
There is a four hour time difference between Great Bend and Hawaii. So as Japanese fighters attacked the U.S. naval base, Pearl Harbor, at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the people of Great Bend were probably just about to get out of church, or getting ready for lunch. But word of the attack did not begin to filter back to the continental states until later in the day.
The parents of John Gordon (Red) Mitchell, Mr and Mrs. John Mitchell of Hoisington, were likely some of the first to learn of attack, when they received word from their son’s commanding officer around 10:30 p.m. that their son had died “as a battle casualty.”
“The message stated: Your son Corporal John G. Mitchell died 10:00 a.m. seven December as battle casualty machine gun and shrapnel wounds. Further information will reach you from the war department, Washington. Sincere sympathy. COMMANDING GENERAL.”
Corporal Mitchell was 33 years of age, and had sailed for the Hawaiian islands almost a year earlier. It was noted that he was the nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Will Hammond of Great Bend, his mother being Mr. Hammond’s sister. Mitchell’s brother, his wife, and children were also living on the Islands, and other family members had recently travelled to visit there.
Many other family relations in Great Bend were also noted. But Mitchell was only the first casualty reported in the paper.
Within days, the list began to grow. Many families were uncertain of the fate of their loved ones, and had only recent letters to cling to as they waited. There was Grover Wells, brothers Lawrence and Morris Evers, Arlan Dean, Herman Burdick, brothers R.S. and A.J. Stone, Charles “Bud” Kramer, Bob Clarke, Donald McCormick and Capt. Ralph Praeger, Rulo Shaw, Lt. Max Carey, Mrs. Ray Post, Pete Karst, Robert Camp, Leonard Dunn, John E. Glenn, and Jerry Murphy, noted in the first few days.
“There are numerous others from Barton county who are either in the various services or working in the troublesome Pacific areas and their relatives and friends are keeping close touch to learn of any news about them,” the Tribune noted.
High school released for address
The next day, Monday, Dec. 8, Great Bend High School students were dismissed early to hear President Roosevelt address the nation.
“Homer C. Scarborough, superintendent, said that facilities at the school were not such that a radio could be hooked up for a crowd of 700 students so they were dismissed to listen at their homes. A small radio as placed in the auditorium for students who stay there during the noon hour.
The large, 10-by-15-foot flag donated by the VFW to the schools Armistice Day, flew from the flagpole today. It replaced a smaller flag used every day in order to protect the larger one for special times of historic importance.”
A transcript of the president’s communication to the nation appeared on the front page of the Great Bend Tribune Monday, Dec. 8.
It was reported that within 20 minutes of him finishing his speech, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of a declaration of war. The House, too, approved the action, but with one holdout. “The single adverse house vote was that of Miss Jeannette Rankin, Republican congresswoman from Montana, who was among the few who voted against the 1917 declaration of war on Germany.”
“The speed with which the two chambers granted President Roosevelt’s request for a declaration was unprecedented.”
Enlistment up locally
Even as the names of those who were stationed at Pearl Harbor began to filter in, young men visited the naval recruiter in record numbers. A naval recruiter, J.T. Georges, yeoman first class, visited Great Bend a week after the attack, and had been notified that all recruiting stations would be open 24-hours a day, seven days a week for the foreseeable future.
“More men inquired about navy enlistment yesterday than have applied for some time, he said...Georges said that during the day nearly 15 men made inquiry for entrance into the navy.”
The men had to pass physicals, but at the time, many minor physical defects, such as seasonal hay fever, would now be accepted. Also, prior to the attack, enlistment was for four years, but now would be for two and three year terms too. “Of course, if the duration of the emergency is longer than the term of a man’s enlistment, he will remain in the service for the duration.”
Retailers make case for Christmas spending
All this, just weeks away from Christmas. As the nation began the process of getting ready for war, retailers made their case for making 1941 a Christmas to remember.
“The boys who check up on Big Business predict the greatest Christmas spending spree we have ever known...According to merchandise experts in New York’s Christmas gift mart, buyers in big department stores have laid in a good supply for an average Christmas, and there will be plenty of most things for early shoppers. But defense job money and a feeling of “Let’s-make-the-most-of-this-Christmas-for-nobody-knows-what-may-come” are expected to send a huge flock of spenders into the gift market to buy the stock on hand. When that is gone, some of it can’t be replaced, the experts say, because of defense manufacturing demands.”
All this, accompanied with photos of costume jewelry, metal toys, imported perfumes and men’s shirts, just to whet the appetite further.
Perhaps they were right. Already, the price of wheat shot up overnight. On Saturday, Dec. 6, it was reported wheat had dropped to $1.0 a bushel in great bEnd, a decline of 1 cent. But by Monday, “wheat went to $1.05 a bushel in Great Bend, an upturn of 4 cents compared with Saturday’s offering.” The government quickly stepped in with price controls, however. Soybeans, likewise, were on the rise.
Many changes were ahead for Americans as they rallied together in support of the war effort. According to one “Growing up American” memoir on the website www.americanthinker.com, “There would be blackouts, air raid drills, rationing and defense stamps, war bonds, and victory gardens. Children meticulously wrapped their tin foil into balls and collected bags of milkweed pods in response to the military’s request to “help the boys overseas.” Service stars would go up in windows across town; when they would tragically turn gold, the town mourned together.”