75 years later

Published 1:31 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Residents recall learning of Japanese attack

By Diana McFarland and Ryan Kushner

Staff writers

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the beginning of the United States involvement in World War II. The attack occurred just before 8 a.m., Hawaiian time, on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, and by the time news arrived in Isle of Wight, many residents were on their way home from church. Here is what a few remember as children or teenagers when the attack occurred.

•Doris Gwaltney

Doris Gwaltney, 84, grew up on a peanut farm about six miles south of Smithfield. The family had come home from church and was listening to the radio, which sat on a shelf in the kitchen. As her mother prepared the midday meal, what they called “dinner” back then, the regular radio broadcast was interrupted with news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Gwaltney was nine years old.

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The family just sat there and looked at each other, Gwaltney said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Her father, who had served in World War I, said that there was no doubt that the attack meant the country would go to war. Gwaltney said her father and older sisters continued to listen to the radio, but she, being just nine, eventually went outside to play.

Gwaltney didn’t have any brothers, so there wasn’t that concern in her family, but she knew of others whose sons left to fight.

“I’m sure it affected every family differently,” Gwaltney said.

•William Carter

William Carter of Rescue was 19 and out driving on a Sunday afternoon with his girlfriend, and now wife, Helen. They were headed to the beach at the base of the James River Bridge where there was also a hotel at the time. As they approached the bridge, Carter said there were soldiers there directing traffic and checking motorists, “for anyone who might blow up the bridge.” The couple turned around, stopped at the hotel and listened to Sammy Kaye’s “Sunday Serenade” as news reports of the attack were updated that afternoon. Carter was drafted two years later, in January 1943 and spent four years in the service.

•Charles Modlin

Charlie Modlin, 83, recalls walking out of Sunday school and heading for a Pure service station located where the Isle of Wight County Chamber of Commerce building is now on Main and South Church streets.

Once there, he remembers getting a Grapette soda.

“I would have been a very young fellow then,” said Modlin.

The corner where the service station was located was also used for the bus stop, according to Modlin, and he recalls a large Buick driving up in a hurry and stopping at the gas pumps.

Modlin, who would have been about eight years old, walked out of the station to see what was going on.   

“The driver of the car said, ‘We’ve got to report to the Navy Yard,’” recalled Modlin. The Norfolk Navy Yard was located in Portsmouth.

People at the station asked what had happened, and the driver of the Buick told them all the grim news, according to Modlin.

“I didn’t know what Pearl Harbor was. I was just a young fellow,” said Modlin. “But that’s what was happening, they were calling everyone up with any military experience.”

Modlin remembers a few of the men from town who responded to the call.

“These gentlemen were probably too old to do any fighting, but they went and reported anyway,” said Modlin.

Modlin isn’t surprised that he still remembers that morning so vividly today, 75 years later.

“It was such a momentous occasion,” said Modlin. “It was my first experience about anything about a war. It’s something you just don’t forget because it’s so bad.”

•Bob Waxham

Ninety-year-old Bob Waxham was a Boy Scout returning home from a scout outing when someone in his family car turned on the radio and heard about the attack. Three years later, Waxham joined the Army and was sent to the Pacific as the war was ending. He served in Occupied Japan and was later called up again when the Korean War began.  {/mprestriction}