WINCHESTER – On Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, high school students were gathered in the auditorium, “dazed by the news from Pearl Harbor” the day before. “The auditorium’s atmosphere reminded you of the clouds’ captive electricity before the storm,” 1942’s class historian wrote.
“We sat in the assembly hall, listening to the president’s message and endless debates in Congress,” the 1943 class historian wrote. “We were awed by events and couldn’t really believe we were at war.”
The students had, of course, been well aware of the war in other nations.
“We came to school with the echoes of England’s horrible summer of bombing in our ears. Roosevelt’s ‘Stab in the Back’ Speech had stirred our patriotism, and we were all involved in Lend Lease and Red Cross work. Our sympathies were enlisted for the tragic story of Greece; Russia began bearing the brunt of Hitler’s attacks.”
Suddenly, it hit home. On Sunday, people were stunned to hear that the Japanese had bombed American bases in the Pacific.
Norman Lundin, age 15, kept a diary (called a Scribble-In Book) during the war years. He did not get the news right away. He and a friend walked to a movie matinee in Woburn and stopped at a couple of places afterward.
After getting home, “I decided to get some music on the radio. I turned it on and I heard ‘Bulldog Drummond.’ As I listened and made Skippy’s supper, the program was interrupted, and it was announced that Japan had attempted to invade Guam. Later, I heard that they had bombed Honolulu, the Philippines, taken over Wake Island.
“Costa Rica and Dutch East Indies declared war on Japan.
“Panama was blacked out.”
As he heard it on the radio, so the Boston Globe’s headline screamed it the next day: “JAPAN STRIKES ALL OVER PACIFIC / Bombs Hawaii, Guam, Philippines / Takes Heavy Toll – Sea Battle On.”
On Monday, school children began to hear the consequences of the attacks. At the grammar school, “Bewildered and grave, we gathered around the radio in the Wadleigh corridor and heard Congress declare war,” Marty Jackson recalled in 1945.
Over the next few days, Lundin wrote brief entries in his diary:
“Dec. 9. Dear Scribble, In school today we heard United States declare war on Japan.”
“Dec. 11. Dear Scribble, Today Germany declared war on the United States. Italy, also!”
“Dec. 12. Dear Scribble, U.S. at war with Germany & Italy.”
“It seemed like a dream as we sat in the assembly hall and listened to the President ask for war,” the 1944 class historian wrote. ”To us fighting was unreal and far away, but the Japs had struck us between the eyes and we soon awakened.”
Many had never heard of Pearl Harbor before Dec. 7, but after that day, no one would forget it.
Life changed. Education changed. As teachers responded to the call for servicemen, the schools quickly needed to fill teaching vacancies. High school principal Wade Grindle himself set an example when he took a leave of absence and donned an Army uniform in the first year of the war.
The curriculum changed, with added classes to fit boys for the armed services, such as training in radio and automotive mechanics, special courses in map making and reading, and special physical education programs, such as a commando run.
Students assisted the home-front effort, selling war stamps, taking turns as airplane spotters, acting as couriers for air raid duty, volunteering with the Junior Auxiliary Police, taking Red Cross first aid courses, working on farms during the summer, helping the salvage service, and more.
In the danger zone
Most impacted, of course, were the boys and girls who joined the armed services. Some former WHS boys were already in the services when war was declared. From the very next issue of the Winchester Star following the attacks on Dec. 7 and 8, Winchester residents learned which of its young men were in the western danger zone. Those at Pearl were all okay – at least for the time being – but the first medal awarded to a Winchester man, a Purple Heart, was earned that day, and tragedy later followed for others.
Pfc Angelo “Fiume” Marchesi, who had been in Hawaii since his training period ended, was the first Winchester boy to win a military decoration.
“During the air attack by Japanese forces on Schofield Barracks and vicinity,” his citation read, “he received a machine gun bullet wound on the left cheek when a Japanese plane strafed the 52nd Field Artillery quadrangle. After receiving medical treatment, despite his wound, Private Marchesi rejoined his organization and assisted with preparatory work of moving in to the field and performed duties of lineman in the field. The meritorious conduct of Private Marchesi, on this occasion, reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.”[Winchester Star, March 6, 1942]
Native Wallace Graham Murphy, WHS 1940, might have once thought he would celebrate his birthday (Dec. 7, 1922) in Hawaii but had left about two weeks earlier, reportedly headed for the Philippines. A gunnery mate then, he won a promotion in October. Through service in multiple wars, he attained the rank of lt. commander.
LCDR Kenneth West, a career Navy man who had entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis following his graduation from Winchester High in 1931, had just traveled in the opposite direction from Murphy and returned to Hawaii from Manila on Dec. 3. His wife cabled his parents that he was all right, though she could not give out his whereabouts.
This was, of course, only the beginning of West’s war, which eventually took him to the Battle of Leyte Strait in October 1944, generally considered to be the largest naval battle. He earned a Silver Star for leading his aircraft crews in shooting down and driving off numerous Japanese aircraft.
Also at Pearl Harbor, Edmund L. Dunn, Jr., WHS 1935, was a crew member on a cruiser (or destroyer) and survived that day. But the news was not always good. Five months later, on May 7, 1942, Dunn was killed in action when his ship, the USS Neosho, was attacked and set ablaze by Japanese aircraft (including one suicide dive) during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Another heart-wrenching story unfolded slowly after the attack on Manila, that of Pvt. Anthony M. Duquette, WHS 1938. He enlisted on Aug. 17, 1940. After two months on the west coast, he was serving in the Philippines under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his successor Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.
Duquette was 20 and a member of Headquarters Co., 31st Regular Infantry, known as the "American Foreign Legion." When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the 31st Infantry was the main unit defending Manila. Since Manila was considered indefensible, the 31st moved to the Bataan Peninsula (which had not been provisioned with food and medicine) to fight until help arrived. Since the Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor and bases at Guam and Wake were lost, help did not arrive.
The 31st fought the Japanese to a standstill for four months, surrendering only when ordered to by their superior officers. The 31st endured the infamous Bataan Death March during which thousands died. The survivors spent nearly four years in captivity, in the course of which roughly half of the 1,600 members of the 31st Infantry who surrendered at Bataan died.
The War Department declared Duquette missing in action in the Philippines in May 1942. His exact fate could not be determined until the Japanese furnished the information under the terms of the Geneva Treaty. Not until January 1943 did his parents receive word from the War Department that their son was a prisoner of war.
In January 1945, his parents and grandmother had their first word from Duquette himself, messages written on Japanese imperial postcards, dated the previous May. He was, he said, doing fine.
But he was not. In June 1945, the Duquettes were notified by the Adjutant General that their son had perished at sea the previous October. As reported in the Winchester Star, the Japanese government reported that he was one of 1,775 prisoners aboard a Japanese ship that left Manila sailing northward on Oct. 11, 1944. The ship was sunk by a submarine in the China Sea on Oct. 24.
Pvt. Duquette’s and RM3 Dunn’s names are memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, as well as fixed in bronze on the memorial outside Town Hall.