Lessons and memories of 75 years ago
Southern Maryland was a very different place 75 years ago today, Dec. 7, 1941. Tobacco was hanging and curing in barns all across the county. Many watermen were taking a day of rest from tonging for oysters. People were returning from church services and settling in at home on a quiet Sunday early afternoon.
Half a world away, though, in the U.S. territory of Hawaii, it was a different story. It was morning there as Japanese planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu. When it was all said and done, 18 ships were sunk and more than 2,400 military personnel and civilians were killed. The United States, which had retreated into a period of relative isolationism following the first huge and awful world war, was pulled into another global confrontation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Congress to declare war on the empire of Japan, and Nazi Germany, Japan’s ally, in turn declared war on America.
At least three Southern Maryland men were among the many U.S. ser vice members with connections to Pearl Harbor on that fateful day, that day Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” A story about them appears in today’s edition. One of them was killed in the attack 75 years ago. Two others lived on to work, raise families and grow old. One of those men has since died, and the other can no longer share his memories of the attack and the terrible war which followed because of his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
But these three men with ties to our area have stories that are well worth sharing, as are the stories of all of our veterans.
Among those 429 men killed on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor was Albert Eugene Hayden, who was born in Piney Point. He had already served a long career in the Navy, having been aboard the battleship USS Texas in the North Sea. Hayden had attended Leonard Hall and the Charlotte Hall Military Academy as a young man. After more than seven decades, his remains were finally brought home to rest this spring after DNA testing positively identified them.
Durwood Wiley of Ridge had joined the Navy about two years before Pearl Harbor, and was serving aboard the battleship USS Idaho off Bermuda when the Japanese attack occurred. He was dispatched as part of the recovery crew later that month. He got to Hawaii three days before Christmas, and was assigned to “police the area,” as he said in a 2005 interview just months before his death at 83. “I can’t explain how I felt when I saw it with the boats ... and all the destruction everywhere. It was horrible.” Wiley was a staple of the Ridge community and its American Legion Post 255 for years after his retirement from the Navy in 1959.
Clarence Davis, 93, who has lived in Charlotte Hall since 1960 before a recent move to assisted living, is now believed to be the last St. Mary’s survivor of Pearl Harbor. He joined the Navy about a year before the attack, when he was 17. He was stationed aboard the mine sweeper USS Oglala when it arrived in Hawaii that fall, but was soon moved to the USS Medusa, a repair ship. The Oglala was one of the ships sunk in the Dec. 7 attack. And the USS Utah, docked in the Medusa’s usual spot, was hit.
The mobilization of America after the attack reverberated in Southern Maryalnd, which sent hundreds upon hundreds of people to war. And a great deal of them died while ser ving.
Of course, the region’s economy changed immediately and forever with the planning and building of Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which opened in 1943. Today, the base is St. Mary’s economic engine, employing some 22,000 people.
It’s important to remember the cost of that success. Southern Maryland and the nation owe a debt of gratitude to heroes like Hayden, Wiley and Davis and so many others for their ser vice.