By Errol Castens
OXFORD – One didn’t have to be at Pearl Harbor to be shaped by the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by the Japanese navy.
Charlie Pounders of Hernando and Ralph Hutchins of Calhoun City, both residents of the Mississippi State Veterans Home at Oxford now, were among the millions of Americans whose directions were changed by that fateful attack 72 years ago today.
“I was born and raised in DeSoto County, just at the top of the hills about a mile from the Delta,” Pounders said. Most of what he learned about Pearl Harbor at school sounded utterly strange.
“We had an 11th- or 12th-grade teacher who said a lot of us would be sent overseas because the war was building up,” he said. “I’d never been out of DeSoto County very much. I said he was crazy, talking about me being overseas.”
The teacher was right, of course. After graduating high school and working awhile longer on his father’s farm, Pounders ended up being inducted into the Army at Camp Shelby, doing boot camp in Texas and further training in Louisiana.
“From there I went to Boston Navy Yard and seeing things I’d never seen in my life,” he said.
After nine days on a ship, he landed with several hundred new friends in Europe. They went ashore at Normandy several weeks after D-Day, cutting a swath for months through France, Belgium and Holland.
“I got buried in a foxhole about 10 miles from the German border. They had to pull me out,” Pounders said. “I’ve had back trouble since then. I bet I’ve taken a barrel of Tylenol.”
Like Pounders, Hutchins was still in high school when the Pearl Harbor attack propelled the U.S. into World War II.
“December 7 was a sad day,” Hutchins said. “It was on a Sunday, and we got the news about five o’clock in the afternoon.”
One of Hutchins’ classmates had already quit school in favor of military enlistment and was on the USS Oklahoma, which was sunk in Pearl Harbor.
“We were anxious to hear what happened to him,” he said. “About a week later we found out he’d found an air pocket and could peck on the hull, so they cut a hole and got him out.”
Hutchins finished school and then was drafted into the Army.
“When I was a very small child, I had a premonition from the Lord that someday I was going to be a soldier,” he said. “When my daddy carried me to the bus to go to Camp Shelby, I just held his hand and told him, ‘I promise you, I will be back.’ I went from there and saw the world.”
Hutchins spent the rest of the war in New Guinea and the Philippines, where the closest he got to combat was a maneuver to estimate the numbers of Japanese soldiers hiding in the local rainforest. His other jobs included assembling a sawmill and using it to build docks – from mahogany timbers, no less.
Pounders and Hutchins, along with millions of other veterans, came home and worked jobs, built homes, raised families and eventually grew old. The war, though, is never far from their thoughts.
“I won’t ever forget what President Roosevelt said after Pearl Harbor,” Hutchins said. “He said, ‘My fellow Americans, let’s take the war to them. We don’t want them to bring it to us.’”