Residents caught by surprise, not prepared for war
SIKESTON - Sixty years ago today, people in Sikeston and the surrounding area received the worst news they had ever heard over the radio: Pearl Harbor had just been bombed in a sneak attack by the Japanese.
"We'd never had anything like that happen," said Virginia Butrum of Sikeston. "I was just a teenager. The impact didn't hit me right away ... What really hit with me was that in just a couple of years classmates were being drafted."
Decades before the information age, television was still in its infancy and radio was enjoying its "golden years" as a medium for entertainment and breaking news.
Housewives were among the very first to hear of the attack as they were among the few to be near a radio as the reports first started coming in over the airwaves.
"I was just a little fella," said U.L. Standridge of Bertrand. At the time, he and his family lived in Grayridge where they farmed.
"I was out in the field driving a tractor," said Standridge. Returning from the fields near noon, his mother told him that "it just came on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed."
Like almost all other Americans at the time, Standridge "wasn't expecting it." He recalled that the Japanese ambassador was still in Washington, D.C. "They should have kept him over here - that war wouldn't have lasted that long."
Although he was too young to serve in the armed forces, as the war continued he remembered contemplating that "if it lasts another three or four years, I'd be in there."
Many of those who were of age enlisted soon after figuring they would be drafted anyway.
"My brother and I were sitting out in the car getting ready to go to church and we heard it on the radio," recalled C.G. Lemons, who was living in Arkansas at the time. "Then, if you had a radio in your car it was pretty big time."
Lemons described his thoughts at the time as being very different than now. "We were young. We didn't know anything about war."
On the advice of his younger brother, who went in the service about a month before he did, Lemons joined the U.S. Army Air Force and eventually went on to pilot a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber with the 8th Air Force.
Butrum said she remembered hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor for the first time after returning from school the next day. "My mother was very upset," said Butrum. "That night we listened to President Roosevelt make his speech."
Sikeston residents who shared their recollections of Dec. 7, 1941, said that while it took years to fully appreciate what the attack on Pearl Harbor meant, news of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks struck a chord instantly.
"I was too young to pay a whole lot of attention to Pearl Harbor," said Standridge. "But this one hit home."
"I was just devastated," said Butrum - both by the lives lost and the thought of people "who could deliberately do that."
Just as her husband was called off to war in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Butrum knew the Sept. 11 attacks would also lead to war and predicted the Sept. 11 attacks will be etched on the minds of this generation just like the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks were for her generation.
"They will remember that - it was something that had never happened before in their lifetime," said Butrum. "Of course, we don't realize the full scope of something like that until it's over."