Dec. 6, 1941: It was a Saturday. In Centerville, preparations for Christmas were well underway. People were dragging home Christmas trees from Perry Produce across from the Post Office. Window displays were bursting with greens, reds, silvers, golds and patriotic red, white and blue. The Courthouse at night was a fairyland of light, and huge candles stood at each side of the building. At exactly 9:30 a.m., Santa drove into the Courthouse Square, brilliantly dressed in a fiery red suit and riding on an Eskimo sled pulled by a team of barking Northland huskies. Three to four thousand children and their parents cheered loudly. In less than 24 hours, the mood would be forever altered.
Dec. 7, 1941: The attack on Pearl Harbor came in two waves: the first at 7:49 a.m. local time, the second an hour later at 8:50 a.m. In Centerville, five time zones to the east, it was midday. Morning services were over. People were making their way to the Continental Hotel Coffee Shop for the first day of the Christmas menu: Three courses with a choice of five meats, all for 55 cents. Those moving along 13th Street, checked the movie showing that night: It was “International Squadron” starring the former WHO broadcaster now Hollywood star, Ronald Reagan. Twenty-one-year-old Helen Carlson was visiting her friend Mary Montgomery in an apartment behind the high school. In the school’s auditorium 12-year old Betty Morris (Bear) was attending an ecumenical meeting. On West Maple, 26-year old Bob Beck and Bill Sharpe were hanging a light fixture. Further east, newlyweds John and Virginia Koestner were filling their car at the Skelly station and chatting with the owner, Thayn Bryant. In Mystic, the Seddon family had just finished their Sunday dinner. Half a mile to the west, 22-year old “Reese” Hudson and his wife Norma, were walking from Mystic to Brazil. Out at Soap Creek, in a 1928 Model A roadster, 18-year old Joe Wilson was delivering Sunday newspapers. Diagonally across the county east of Seymour on Shoal Creek, Maurice Stamps and his brother Boyd were listening to a radio broadcast of a football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. Their lives, and those of everyone they knew, were about to change.
Later on Dec. 7, 1941: The news about Pearl Harbor reached the town first by radio. Then it was by word of mouth. Maurice Stamps’ football game was interrupted. Bob Seddon heard it on the radio and ran to tell his father who was having afternoon coffee with his friends at Mystic’s local gas station. Betty Morris (Bear) heard it from Matt Blazina, her grandfather when she reached Rathbun after the high school ecumenical meeting. Reese Hudson and his wife Norma heard it half-way on their walk to Brazil when Jesse Lowe came running out of his house and shouted to Reese, who’d been drafted and inducted three months earlier, that he’d better get in contact with his army unit. And within minutes of the news reaching Moulton’s Main Street, all activity on a traveling roller-skating rink stopped and one of the skaters, 11-year Phyllis Morrow (Cosby), ran home to tell her parents, whose initial disbelief evaporated when they turned on their radio.
At midnight there was a special phone call from the FBI to W.O.Frame, superintendent of the Burlington Railroad in Centerville. The same call went to all transportation lines in the county. No transportation was to be given to any Japanese person. The call was followed by a wire from the Secretary of Air Commerce to Sheriff Jack Bailey and Chief of Police Ray Brunson. All locally owned aircraft were to be grounded. Police officers were to guard Centerville’s landing fields and keep them under 24-hour surveillance. Patrolman Richard Davis was immediately assigned to night duty at the airport. Officer Carl Ware replaced him for day duty. Both men were to be in constant contact with officials at City Hall. If a period of more than an hour passed without such contact, an investigation patrol was to be sent out. The Hercules plant that was manufacturing secret material for the U.S. Defense Department, announced it was closed to all visitors. The Iowa Southern Utilities plant on the northeast corner of the Square said the same. The doors to the plant, previously open to anyone, were closed, sealed by steel-wire gates open only to plant officials.
At the U.S. Coastguard at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, Exline’s Bill Hutchison was awakened from sleep. He dressed, was armed and assigned to duty outside a Japanese dry goods store on Mission Street in San Francisco. He was to prevent anyone from entering. He described to his parents in Exline the look on the faces of the elderly Japanese owners when he told them they could not enter their own store.
Dec. 8, 1941: The weather was cold. Dark sullen clouds hung low in the sky. A high wind tore at the flag on top of the Courthouse yard flagpole. Charles DePuy, the Iowegian columnist, walked the Square, his head low to keep the wind from his eyes. In the Red Cross Drug Store on the Square’s southside, DePuy found people listening to the radio and commenting with an air of resignation. The tone was the same at the Continental. Traveling salesmen were standing in groups listening to the announcer, confused, wondering whether to sit and wait or return home.The radio announcer was starting to describe the scene in the U.S. Congress. The president was about to speak.
Across the county everyone adjusted their radios and increased the volume. In Mystic High School, students lined in the assembly room watched as Superintendent H.G.Golden placed a console radio on the stage. In Moulton, students were assembling in the study hall. Superintendent Werner Wegner tuned the radio and checked that all could hear. In Centerville, Charles DePuy had reached the city’s high school. The students were listening in their classrooms. The president began: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date that will live in infamy...” At the end he finished: “I ask that the congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.” The national anthem was played. The Centerville students, without prompting, stood to attention and pledged allegiance to the flag.