Three veterans remember Pearl Harbor and World War II
By Rima Austin | December 6, 2018 8:40 am
Almost anyone who was alive at the time can remember where he or she was Dec. 7, 1941. That was the day Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Families all across the United States gathered around their radios the next day to listen to the speech given by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Lewis Ross, 97, was one of those people who found a radio that day.
“I was teaching school in Monroe County, Kentucky,” said Ross. “When Roosevelt came on the radio, I left the school and came down to where the radio was to listen to his oration, you know, the fireside chat.”
Ross said he went out and joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, as it was called at that time, the next day. He explained how he was allowed to come back and finish out the year as a teacher before he was called to come in.
Dr. Charles Mitchell, of Sparta, told how he had not acquired much in the way of professional skills before he joined the Army. He explained how it was his service in the military that inspired him to do something with his life when he got out. When he came home after the war he decided to go to medical school.
“I learned to shoot small weapons, and I became proficient in the service,” said Mitchell. “They wanted me to stay, but I wanted to get into something else.”
Earl Rigsby was already in the Army when the United States entered into World War II. He remembers the day he left to join and how his mother stood in their front yard clinging to him and begging him not to go.
“I’ll never forget her crying, holding on to me trying to keep me from leaving,” said Rigsby. “I remember she tripped, and I left her laying there in the front yard crying after me. That was a hard day.”
Both Rigsby and Mitchell fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and both remember it well. The Battle of the Bulge began in the winter of 1944 and received its name because of the “bulge” the German troops created around the Ardennes Forest near the country of Luxembourg. The German army created a counter attack that was intended to push through the Allied forces in hopes that, after D-Day and the Allied troop’s victory at Normandy Beach, in France, the war would turn back toward Adolf Hitler’s favor. When Ross left with his unit, he found himself as a navigator in the U.S.-held Philippines where the Japanese had launched other attacks around the same time they attacked Pearl Harbor.
All three men said they were scared when they learned about the bombing at Pearl Harbor, and it seemed to be the way everyone around them felt as well. Rigsby, who was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, described how the troops immediately began to prepare for a home invasion.
“We were all scared, even the officers were,” said Rigsby. “We were loading them guns, 30 caliber machine guns. We left that place and got on a ship; we didn’t know where we were going.”
Luckily, Mitchell, Rigsby, and Ross returned home after the war ended. Ross said words could hardly describe how happy he was when he got off the plane, in Los Angeles, California.
“I was so happy to be home,” exclaimed Ross. “People were smiling and laughing, water was spewing from fountains, I was glad to be home.”
Soon the conversation turned to modern-day war and what each of them thought about what was happening in the Middle East. Although they each had different opinions about what should be done, they did agree on one thing. They each agreed that the biggest danger is a small country having access to nuclear weapons. This thought, however, still did not sway their opinion on the country that they love and fought for.
“If you want to get ahead, take on the United States, and lose, and they’ll set you up,” said Ross, referring to how generous the United States is in helping countries rebuild their infrastructures after devastating wars.
“I don’t think anybody in the world today wants to take on the United States in anything,” said Mitchell. “We are a supreme bunch of people.”
Rigsby said, “The United States is the best country in the world.”