Mississippians recall impact of Pearl Harbor attack 70 years later

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Thousands of miles separate Mississippi from Hawaii, but the bombs and torpedoes that hit Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today had a direct impact on the Magnolia State.
“The saddest thing was the young men getting on that train at midnight and going to Jackson to sign up,” said Virginia Dillard, 91. “The women would all stand there and cry.”
Dillard and a handful of other residents at AvonLea Assisted Living and Retirement Community in Tupelo recently shared their memories of the Japanese attack that happened so far away but hit so close to home.
“The most horrible thing is the ships that went down with sailors still stuck inside,” said 85-year-old Klo Guyton, who learned of the military strike while on campus at Blue Mountain College. “The mothers knew their sons suffered.”
The assault that caused the U.S. entry into World War II killed more than 2,400 Americans and wounded nearly 1,300. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers were damaged or sunk, and 188 planes were destroyed.
“It put us on the defensive,” said Fred Lofton, 88.
Annie B. Stith, 99, was living in Monroe County at the time of the attack.
“I was teaching then,” she said. “I probably had kids around me when I heard about it.”
Corinth native Roy Green, 90, was in college, and he remembered waiting in the lounge for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s radio address.
“Normally, a gang of boys will be fidgety and noisy,” he said. “We were packed in there, and sitting on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs. When the president spoke, silence. Complete silence.”
Green joined the Air Force and served in the European theater. Lofton was in the Navy to fight in the Pacific, where he saw the aftermath firsthand.
“They didn’t spend a lot of time cleaning up,” Lofton said. “There was damage for a long time.”
Guyton and Dillard remembered waiting for news from their husbands.
“Everybody went to the post office to get the mail. ‘What have you heard?’” Dillard said.
As devastating as the Pearl Harbor attack was, American forces spent only so much time on the defensive.
“The tide turned, and we went on the offensive,” Lofton said. “This is the greatest country in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.”
After the war, Green was a civilian worker in Japan during the reconstruction.
“Since I was working directly with them, to me they were just people,” he said. “Most all of them I dealt with were very nice to me.”
The past should be remembered and honored, Green said, but there’s no point holding a grudge all these years later.
“Our relationships with other countries are quite a bit different now,” he said, “and it’s going to get more different going forward.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com