Saturday morning, a contingent of local residents gathered at the American Legion log cabin in Fayetteville to remember the nearly 2,400 people who were killed or injured in the Dec. 7, 1941 surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
The guest speaker was local resident and WWII veteran Ardon Smith, who remembered getting help to doctor his birth certificate in order to join the military, as so many Americans at the time had rushed to sign up to join the war effort out of a feeling of patriotism.
“When word got around that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and destroyed our fleet, it really hit home,” Smith recalled. “Everybody was patriotic completely. A lot of fellows I knew headed to the enlistment stations and signed up for service. … It was quite a time.”
Smith noted that an Army radar station on Oahu picked up an early sign of the Japanese planes coming but initially thought the reading was a glitch.
“They weren’t sure what it was and the lead guy in charge couldn’t believe what was on the scope, so he thought it was acting up,” Smith said. That officer did call headquarters in case the radar was correct, but the headquarters officer was inexperienced and leaders weren’t expecting an attack, Smith added.
“And he didn’t report it any higher,” Smith said. “So the word did come out that there was something coming in but the word was not put out, resulting in a dastardly attack.”
The Japanese fleet first launched 183 airplanes in the attack that caught the military base by surprise as soldiers scrambled to get to their ground artillery and to launch aircraft to fight off the attack. A second wave from the Japanese warships sent more than 160 aircraft to attack the U.S. installation at Pearl Harbor, Smith noted.
Smith recalled how military officials had to get permission from his parents, who threw a bucket of water on his plans by denying his wishes. But later he got his way, as did nearly 16 million American soldiers who served in WWII.
Smith missed out on combat action and was in boot camp training when the war ended having graduated high school in 1944 and working at a printing press where his goal was to “print a new birth certificate.”
A girl who worked at the shop erased Smith’s birthday and put a new date in via a typewriter.
“I immediately went to the recruiting office and signed up in the Navy. I was supposed to go to Memphis, Tenn., to radar school and I thought, ‘Boy, this is great,’” Smith remembered. “And then the chief of the station came out to our house, he had to get parent permission because I was 16 but he thought I was 17 and you had to get permission ‘til you were 18. And my parents wouldn’t sign. So that put a stop to that.”
Smith then made an effort to join the Merchant Marines but was rebuffed again.
“As soon as I was 17, I signed up in the Coast Guard … and I was in boot camp in New York in Brooklyn when the war ended.”
He later got into the Army where he finished his military career.
Leigh Blood, commander of American Legion Post 50 in Peachtree City, read a presidential proclamation on the event from President Barack Obama, noting that in addition to the deaths, the attack “damaged our Pacific fleet, challenged our resilience and tested our resolve.”