SI Vault
Schuyler Bishop
December 26, 1983
This true story was told to the author by a friend some years ago.
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December 26, 1983

December Heralds A Sad But Vivid Memory Of Football, War And Death

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"Tuffy Leemans Day has not been a good one for either Tuffy or the Giants," said the announcer. "He's been held to scrimmage on almost every carry. And we just got a report that Mel Hein, who was honored last year, has been taken to the hospital. Nello Falaschi got a bad gash on his shin by a cleat. The Brooks are ahead 14-0, and let me tell you, the Brooks are the ones that look like champs today. O.K. The Giants line up at scrimmage.... There's another announcement. I don't know what's going on, but something sure is. It's a long count. The ball is hiked, it's given to Leemans, there's a hole on the right side, he's through the hole, but he's brought down from the side, and Tuffy's at the bottom of a big pile.... There's a time-out on the field, it looks like an official's timeout. Ladies and gentlemen, I've never heard more people paged at a football game. First it was Colonel William J. Donovan, asked to call Washington, and since then every few minutes someone else has been paged. Wait a minute. I've just been handed a bulletin. Can we get a confirmation? Ladies and gentlemen, this is datelined Washington, D.C.: Early this morning Japanese planes launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor. All servicemen are requested to report to their bases. The ball is in play again. It's a pass. Over the middle, and it's intercepted. Manders intercepted...."

I shut the radio off and pushed open the door. I almost called "Dad," but then I remembered Nanna and how I'd been forbidden to listen to the radio. I pulled the door shut, afraid someone had seen me. I knew my parents would want to hear, but I didn't know how I could tell them. They'd been talking about the Japanese all week. I thought maybe I'd imagined what I'd heard, so I turned the radio back on. The game continued, but you'd hardly have known it because the announcer kept reading bulletins and repeating them over and over again. I knew I had to do something. I shut the radio off. I knew if my father thought I had disobeyed again he'd keep me in past Christmas—and with my Nanna in there. I thought I could say that everyone was talking about it, that someone in a passing car had honked his horn and told me. But the street was as quiet as ever. Then I remembered that Old Doc Kellner's drugstore just two blocks away had a radio. I wasn't supposed to go in there either, but Uncle Dan had given me money to get myself a honey bun, and I figured I could say it was the only place open, that I didn't want to go in there.... No, I thought, I could say I didn't go in there, that I had asked a man standing out front to go in for me and that he had told me.

I snuck back up to the end of the block, crossed the street and then ran all the way home. When I burst in the door, everyone turned to look at me.

"What's the matter, dear?" my mother asked.

"The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor," I said too loud.

All at once people said, "What?" and "Oh my God" and " Pearl Harbor?"

Uncle Dan said there was a radio in my room. They all looked at one another and then at me. Uncle Dan led the rush up the stairs. Only three of the old women stayed in the parlor. "God help us," said one. I looked in at Nanna's coffin, then ran upstairs.

No one ever asked me where I'd heard the news, not even Uncle Roy. The Brooks won 21-7, and I lost my allowance to Tommy. Uncle Dan enlisted in the Navy the next day and was assigned to the aircraft carrier Hornet; it was less than a year before we put another black wreath on the door.

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