Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma
Uncle Earl Remembers the Beginning of A War:
Perspectives--the media love to supply them: Chernobyl,
Three-Mile Island, name your disaster. Myself, living here in Tokyo, I
have been thinking of the fire-bombing the city underwent in March 1945,
in which the death figures were higher than those for Hiroshima--an event
no one outside Japan seems to remember.
We remember what happens to Us, not to Them. Say
the word “disaster” and Americans say “9/11.” Push to remember something
earlier, they say "Pearl Harbor." Alright, let’s put that in perspective.
The disaster at Pearl Harbor in 1941 was certainly greater than 9/11 and
in its consequences greater than 3/11 (3/11/11). Here’s an interview that
tries to elicit one average American’s response. “Average”? What is average?
Earl (below) was born in Arkansas in 1909 of Cherokee ancestry (one quarter).
The interview took place in a tiny town in central Oklahoma in 1994, and
moves from Pearl Harbor to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys of Western
Interviewee: Earl Strong, age. 85.
Interviewer: a nephew.
Chorus: Earl’s in-laws.
Location: Davenport OK, pop. 881.
Uncle Earl, What were you doing December 7, 1941,
when they bombed Pearl Harbor? Do you remember that day?
Pearl Harbor, when the second world war began.
Yeah, I remember.
What were you doing that day?
I was probably milkin cows. Yeah. [Silence.] Does
that help you any?
Not much. How did you hear about it?
Milkin the cows?
No, Pearl Harbor.
I really was milkin the cows.
Did you hear about it on the radio?
Well, we had a radio in the dairy barn. It coulda
It didn't make any big impression on you?
No not really.
I was too dumb I guess. I didn't know what all
was goin on.
You didn't figure you'd have to go?
Well, they did tell me--when they had that examination
they told me that when they started takin women and children I'd be the
next in line. That crooked arm always got me out. Yeah, I fell off a horse
when I was just a little feller.
You're serious, aren't you. You can't bend it?
I can bend it but that's as strait as it'll go.
He fell off and broke it, and that was back in
hard times, like you don't know anything about.
I've heard enough about it.
If you wanna hear more, come up to the cafe here
some mornin and you can hear some more.
Which cafe's your headquarters now?
Dan's Barbecue. On the corner.
What time you start?
Sometimes I get down in the dumps, all shot out,
and I can go up there and always find somebody worse. I've got a lot of
friends there, and if I don't have a way home they'll take me or get me
a way. Once or twice I got lost but the worst I got lost I could still
remember the telephone number.
I still want a story about Pearl Harbor. Where
were you in 1941? Where were you living when you were milking these cows?
Yeah. No. California.
No, he was here workin for ol' Taylor Honey was
what he was doin.
Well, I wasn't livin in California then on the
I don't think you'd went to California in '41.
I think . . .
Why no, I went to California in '47.
You ‘were workin for Tulsa Body Works in Tulsa.
Ol' Taylor Honey.
I don't know about that. You was either with ol'
Taylor Honey or with Tulsa Body Works. [Silence.] You remember when Opal
and I got married? I do.
That's kinda comin back to me now.
We got married in 1940 . . .
Earl, how long was you at the body works up there?
You was up there about eight years, wasn't you?
Yeah, about eight years. I was a welder then.
You were in Tulsa when the war started.
So you weren't milking a cow at all.
No, I hadn’t even met the back end of a cow yet.
Did any of your brothers go to the war?
Yeah, yeah. About all of them I guess that was
old enough, didn't they?
I don't remember, Earl. I was too busy pickin cotton.
Harlin did. Harlin and uh . . .
And Don. Huh. I'm gettin a way back there now.
[Silence.] If I was up there in Tulsa, I was workin in a body shop, doin
the oilfield trucks. Down home I've got pictures of them.
This would have been on a Sunday, when the Japanese
bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II began.
Well, I remember that day. But I don't know whether
I know where I was at.
You probably would have been at home in Tulsa,
because you wouldn'a been workin on Sunday.
On a Sunday probably would'a been up at the lake
President Roosevelt came on the radio and declared
"I heahby declaih wahh on the Japanese Empaah."
Then they shot up some of the Japanese over there.
Yeah, I remember that. And they all, everybody here, swore that the President
knew it. He was supposed to not a knew it.
About the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Yeah, and all of that. They knew.
Yeah, reporters and all said that they knew it
was comin. Some of the Japanese ambassadors had been over here talkin to
Well, that was where I taken my physical exam,
here in Tulsa. Me and Rick and all of us boys that worked there in the
shop. We went up there. See, Bob Wills and them guys, they come down in
our shop. I knew them boys. Johnny, Bob’s father.
Earl's shop was right there by where they broadcast
from. Bob Wills and his Texas Doughboys. Wasn’t it called Cains Ballroom?
Yeah, that big building where they broadcasted
right across the street. I used to sit on the door there and see all them
come out. Bob Wills, his daddy John, and all of them, they would come over
there to the shop and we’d talk.
Old John told me once, "One day in Texas, me and
my brothers were all out in the cotton patch. We picked up our cotton sacks
and hung 'em on our backs and said, 'This is the last day.'” And it was.
They never did go back to the cotton patch anymore.
[To nephew] Now that might help you.
Yeah well I knew Bob. Even had seen that big fine
saddle he had. They had it in the trailer.
His ol' Daddy could fiddle--John--he was the state
champion but Bob could make a fiddle sing.
I talked to his dad, ol’ John. Me and Bessie went
up to the north end of town to look at a house. Bessie liked it because
it had a porch clear around it. She was gonna close it all in and make
it screened-in all the way around. While she was in there lookin that house
over, I was standin out there talkin to John.
Yeah, and he was a nice old feller to talk to.
He said "I'm glad to have you for a neighbor." I said "Well I'd be glad
to have you for a neighbor." Yeah.
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