- Historic Sites
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941…”
The bombs that fell that Sunday didn’t just knock out some battleships; they roused America into a new age. Here is how the long, unforgettable day unfolded.
November 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 7
The management of the Taft Hotel was resigned to occasional outpourings of enthusiasm by Yale students, but neither they nor their paying guests were prepared for the small army that swarmed through the lobby, past and over chairs, couches, and potted plants, a bobbing, weaving, boisterous snake dance that made its way noisily up the stairs, through the corridors to the top floor, and down and out again onto the streets. For most students and the “townies” who had joined them, it seemed like good clean fun, but windows were broken, potted plants overturned, the hotel lobby was a mess, and beneath the fun ran an undercurrent of potentially destructive force, a mix of exhilaration and anger that reflected the shock of the day’s news—that, and a kind of relief that the uncertainties of the past months had been resolved at last. Fortunately for everyone, the police appeared in force, the students ran out of steam, and after a brief mass sit-down on the trolley tracks to demonstrate their independence, the students broke up into groups of two or three and slowly faded away in the night.
They could have no idea of the hardships and suffering that lay ahead or of the thin margin that would separate their country and its allies from defeat at times. As they strode through the cobbled streets of New Haven on that December evening, bursting with the force of youth and defiance, laughing, cheering, ” some with tears in their eyes, they could hardly imagine that they were seeing certain friends in the crowd for the last time, or know that the only future vestige of those names or faces would be the dimming memory of lost comrades forever young, glowing and strong, walking arm-in-arm through a college town on the night the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
All that was for the future; for now, everything was lost in joyful exuberance and a surge of patriotism, the likes of which might not be seen again on that campus or another. During those borrowed years before the unsought war came to America, these students had favored America’s entry into the war, or they had opposed it, or they had not known exactly where they stood, but the differences that had seemed so important didn’t really matter any longer. What needed to be done now seemed very clear.