This year's Memorial Day program at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin is dedicated to the two Elgin Navy personnel, who along with 2,000 others, were killed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It's a tribute that will likely have no survivors of the attack present.
Instead, those attending will probably be people who were children and young adults at the time. Only later in life would these people fully realize what fateful events were unfolding -- both locally and nationally -- in the wake of the unprecedented attack.
"I was 15 years old at the time and eating popcorn with my good friend Ed Adamek at my parent's home on Jewett Street on the west side," said Al Mink. "We were listening to the Chicago Bears game and about 1:30 p.m. the radio program was interrupted to report news of the ongoing attack. I didn't really realize what was going to happen to us," he added.
Helen (Masi) McCulluch was a young teenager at the time working at Kresge's 5 and 10 Cent Store in downtown Elgin when she heard the news. "It was the holiday season and the business was open on Sunday. People came in saying Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Everyone was so aghast. No one really had any concept of what it all meant. I was really worried since I had one brother in the service."
The next day President Roosevelt gave his famous "Day of Infamy" speech and Congress voted to declare war on Japan. Local newspapers said that broadcast was heard by most area schoolchildren who listened on radios which had been loaned to the schools by local merchants.
The superintendent of schools told the staff, "Schools must avoid panicky actions and not act in a way which might upset the children." The president of the Board of Education pledged the school district's full support in "national preparedness efforts."
A plan by the city council to reduce the number of police and fire personnel was postponed indefinitely. The Elgin mayor also called upon all ex-service men in the city to protect the city and its industry from saboteurs.
Elginites showed their support for war effort by quickly pledging over $16,000 to the Red Cross fund. The president of the Elgin Chamber of Commerce reassured federal officials, adding the nation could count on the full support of the business community and that "the minds, men and machines from Elgin, Illinois are pledged to fight to victory."
Elgin newspapers of the time reported that over 100 Elgin men were serving in either Guam, Hawaii, or the Philippines -- though the exact number in Hawaii was uncertain. Additional news was slow to follow, and one newspaper commented that "no news was good news" for many families.
Such was not the case for the family of Richard F. Jacobs, who received word of his death nine days after the attack. More than two weeks after the bombing, the family of Bruce D. Bradley was informed that he was "missing in action." A month later they received official word that "after an exhaustive search it is impossible to locate your son … he lost his life in service to his country on December 7, 1941."
"This thing is not going to be over in a hurry," wrote an Elgin newspaper columnist two days after the attack. "This will go on for three or even five years. Talk locally ... buy government bonds ... victory is ahead, and whether or not you believe it, you can speed it or retard it."
His words were most prophetic as World War II would drag on for four years as Elgin citizens and businesses joined the nation in an unprecedented effort to bring about victory. It was a struggle that would come at great cost and include the loss of over 400,000 American lives including more than 100 from the Elgin area.
Elgin men who died in the Pearl Harbor attack:
Bruce Dean Bradley
U.S. Navy Enlisted
Seaman 2nd Class, U.S.S. Arizona
After attending Elgin High School for 2½ years, Bradley enlisted in the U.S. Navy in October 1940. In December of 1940 he returned home for a nine-day furlough. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona and was only 19 years old when he was among more than 1,100 killed during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Richard Fredrick Jacobs
U.S. Navy Enlisted
Shipfitter 3rd Class, U.S.S. California
A lifelong Elginite, Richard F. Jacobs participated in both basketball and football at Elgin High School before graduating in 1940. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was sent to Great Lakes Naval Base for basic training. Jacobs was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and served on the U.S.S. California during the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He was one of more than 100 killed on his ship.