Blackout ordered after attack

PORT ANGELES — Like most of the U.S. mainland on Dec. 7, 1941, Port Angeles was left in the dark by the authorities.

Officials wanted all light covered to avoid air or submarine attacks, and even though it was a small town, Port Angeles residents began immediate preparations, putting blankets over windows and cardboard on car lights.

Residents did not want to be a target for the submarines they were positive would bomb at night.

The rumor mill was working overtime, as tales of Seattle having been bombed and other scary scenarios were circulating. People were sure the Japanese would come up the Strait of Juan de Fuca and attack Port Angeles on the way to Seattle and the shipyards in Bremerton. There was a lot of fear in residents’ eyes.

One couple who lived near the Elwha River got married the morning of Dec. 7. The bride, Barbara MacNamarra, and groom, George Bretches, who had just been discharged from the Army, heard the news of the bombing when they returned from church that morning, and on their wedding night, the bride and groom put blankets on their windows.

From Eleanor Corey’s book “Sticks, Stones &Songs,” she says, “What wasn’t expected was the visitor who knocked at the door on Sunday evening, December 7, 1941. Daddy had heard the vehicle in the drive and opened the door immediately to a uniformed officer from the Clallam County Sheriff’s department … The officer was a tall man with serious eyes who touched his hat toward Mother and shook Daddy’s outstretched hand.

“He said, ‘I have come to tell you that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Many of our military have been killed and the United States is now at war. … All homes and businesses on the West Coast are under immediate blackout order. After dark, all windows are to be completely hidden so no light escapes. All cars driven at night are to have their lights covered.”

Corey said neighborhood watches ensured compliance with blackout rules.

The Dec. 8, 1941, Port Angeles Evening News reported that a complete blackout of Port Angeles and vicinity had been called for that night. It was to be effective from dusk until morning, unless an “all clear” signal was sounded in the meantime.

Police Chief R.O. Ides, who announced the blackout, received the request at 2 p.m. the afternoon of Dec. 8. The blackout was called in accordance with a request by U.S. Army authorities.

They also called for an immediate mobilization of all civil and military defense units in Port Angeles, and all units were on a 24-hour alert to meet any war emergency, said Frank Lindsay, Civilian Defense commissioner.

The Evening News reported that a unit of the U.S. Army had taken over the Salmon Club’s lockerhouse on Ediz Hook. Other newspaper stories said every precinct in the city of Port Angeles had an air raid warden on alert for any emergency. Emerson G. Lawrence was the captain of the wardens.

The public was requested to cooperate wholeheartedly in abiding by the war emergency rules.

On Dec. 10, the Evening News ran a story by “The Wandering Scribe” that said: “This will be a wartime Christmas/ but every endeavor should be made/to retain the traditional Christmas spirit/as much an American institution/as our Democracy.”

Don Swanson and Gerald Page told about guns on railroad cars at the end of West Fifth Street.

Swanson said the Army camped in the yard of his grandparents Ike and Margaret Robinson’s house at 1702 W. Fifth St. The garage was used as a mess tent.

Page, who lived at 1415 W. Fifth St., said soldiers slept in his parents’ garage.

Soldiers found places to camp in many places in Port Angeles. The Masonic Temple basement was one such shelter. Schools were another.

Soldiers bunked in the gymnasiums. Students were told not to speak to them. However, a lot of looking and smiling between the young women and the soldiers was reported.

Often the soldiers who came to Port Angeles had no rain gear or proper clothing. It was at least a month before they had anything to eat but K rations. Most were very young and away from home for the first time. The residents tried to make them feel at home the best way they could.

The following are excerpts are from Lonnie Archibald’s book “Here on the Home Front: WWII in Clallam County.”

Ron Shearer of Forks said: “The first thing the military did was to set up road blocks at all the river bridges. You would stop at the Calawah Bridge and give them your ID papers and so forth.

“At night someone would shine a flashlight on you and you would show your ID. Up on the bank above the road would be a sandbag emplacement and you would be looking up the barrel of a machine gun. Every one of the bridges had someone there twenty-four hours a day.”

Doug McInnes from Sequim wrote: “The threat of Japanese attacks was short-lived and most of the soldiers moved on long before the war ended.”

But the residents of Port Angeles would never forget the day of Dec. 7, 1941.

________

Alice Alexander is a Clallam County historian, author, and a descendent of an Elwha Valley pioneer family who writes a column that appears the first Sunday of the month in the Peninsula Daily News. She is a recipient of a 2014 Clallam County Heritage Award. She can be reached at bretches1942@gmail.com.

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