Area Residents Recall Day That Lives on in Imfamy

Area residents old enough to remember Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor recalled yesterday what they were doing exactly 50 years ago this weekend, when the news of the surprise bombing shocked the nation.

Lowell Professor of the Humanities William Alfred '49 said he was at the New York debut of Cuban concert pianist Halmar Grabao when he received the news.

"The first part of the concert went beautifully and then there was a slight intermission," Alfred said. "When she came back out she began to get flustered and wasn't playing well."

Alfred said Grabao suddenly stopped playing, stood up and left the stage. "The manager came out and told us that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor," he said.

According to Alfred, the audience reacted with shock and disbelief.

"We were kind of bewildered that night. I knew damn well I'd be drafted and that my life was changed, and that was kind of a blow to the stomach," said Alfred, who fought in the Pacific during World War II.

Others who recalled the attack said they immediately recognized its global ramifications. Allan Forbes said he was listening to the radio in his car when he was informed of the bombing.

"I was driving to Connecticut on a Sunday afternoon, at about six o'clock," Forbes said. "I had about 30 dogs in a trailer, bringing them home from a field trial."

Forbes said when the announcement came, he knew that the world would be different.

"I knew that it was the end of a great age," he said. "I couldn't believe they'd done it. What did they have to gain?"

"You knew that the boom had been lowered and you were under it," added Forbes, who attended Harvard College for a few years during the early 1940s.

Shortly thereafter, Forbes said, he was drafted into the army, and a year later he was fighting in Europe.

Ed Aaronian, who learned of the attack on a car radio as he was returning from a YMCA sports convention, said the most memorable image of that day was hearing former President Franklin D. Roosevelt '04 call for war against Japan.

"The most powerful feeling of all was the reverberation of Roosevelt's voice making the announcement," Aaronian said.

But while Roosevelt, addressing the United States Congress, called the Japanese attack "a day that will live in infamy," Forbes said he thinks the strike was militarily legitimate.

"I think it's unfair for any American to emphasize what the Japanese did [as wrong], because the essence of warfare is surprise," he said. "Did we tell the Germans where we were going to land?"

Instead, Forbes said, Americans should focus on this country's actions during the war.

"The day of infamy was the 6th of August, 1945, when we bombed Hiroshima," Forbes said. "Jesus Christ, do you know how many people died in World War II?