Recalling the days after Pearl Harbor

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Tustin aircraft spotter during WWII

Volunteer aircraft spotters from Tustin were assigned to an aircraft listening post in Irvine during World War II. Gertrude Cleary, one of the many women serving, calls in her report in this photo.

AThe Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! In a few days 69 years will have passed since that message shocked the nation on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, but few if any Tustin residents have forgotten where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

Gushing from the radio and passing from person to person the news was terrifying. What would happen next? Would Japanese war planes swoop down on Long Beach where U. S. Navy ships were anchored, Los Angeles or even Tustin? We prayed that nothing would happen and stayed glued to the radio for as long as we could stay awake.

By morning our terror had lessened somewhat and we nervously returned to our usual routines. Despite headlines, news broadcasts and President Roosevelt’s proclamation of war, the daily routine continued almost as usual for a short time. Then blackouts with blackout curtains, curfews and limited night driving with headlights taped to allow only a small slit of light to pass through became normal.

Volunteering as air raid wardens and air craft spotters along with air raid siren tests, gas, meat, sugar and shoe rationing became accepted parts of our lives.

Many senior boys left Tustin High before graduation, volunteering for the Army or Navy. Japanese students vanished overnight, banished with their parents to relocation camps. Women and kids were suddenly in demand to replace workers who had been drafted. Summer vacation was extended into October so that students could continue to work in the fields during harvest.

We gradually became less fearful although Tustin was surrounded by the Tustin Lighter Than Air Base, El Toro Marine Base and the Army Air Base at Costa Mesa. The majority of traffic to and from El Toro traveled through Tustin on D Street (El Camino Real). Residents were both terrified and fascinated by long caravans of equipment and military personnel passing through at all hours.

Several times we thought the community was under attack, but fortunately both episodes were false alarms. The scariest happening came one night shortly after everyone was in bed.
The air raid siren atop the First National Bank building howled. The night was pitch black. Suddenly long fingers of light illuminated the western sky behind Santa Ana.

We watched for what seemed like hours before the search lights flickered out and the air raid siren signaled “all clear.” The next day (and for years after) there were whispered accounts of an enemy plane shot down over Long Beach or a submarine sunk while it was trying to penetrate the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor.

But to this day no one seems to know what really happened. We had frequent air raid drills at school, but one day the situation seemed completely different. While the siren blasted, the teachers quickly lined us up against the lockers in the downstairs hall.

We sat on the floor for a least an hour, telling jokes, giggling and trying to act nonchalant and hide our terror. The all clear signal finally sounded without incident, but we never learned why the drill lasted so long. The war ended with Tustin unscathed, but everything had changed.
The community would never again be a sleepy, small town.

 

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