Back in the Day: Remembering the Local Impacts of the Pearl Harbor attack

"Whether or not bombs drop on Fairfield or environs, we are at war – real, devastating, senseless, relentless war – and to the finish."

The following Back in the Day column was published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on December 7, 2015

By Tony Wade

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” —President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor took place on a Sunday, but the Fairfield newspaper at the time was not the Daily Republic, but the printed-every-Thursday Solano Republican. Thus the first local reports and commentary on the momentous events were not published until Thursday the 11th.

The main story that day featured the headline: “It’s Only a War, Keep Cool.”

“Whether or not bombs drop on Fairfield or environs, we are at war – real, devastating, senseless, relentless war – and to the finish. When the first bomb dropped on Honolulu last Sunday morning, two political parties were wiped out – the Democrats and Republicans. Today there is but one party in this nation and that is the American Party.”

The article went on to talk about how, since the attack, the world was different and then listed things that Americans would have to get ready for: no radio news, curtailed newspaper accounts, infrequent mail for servicemen and perhaps shortages of commodities.

The article’s title was explained later when it suggested locals keep cool and take care of their farms, businesses and households, but keep their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut.

A very interesting part of the column was this declaration about Japanese-Americans: “Many of our young citizens who are of a different race, are placed in an embarrassing situation, through no fault of their own. Let us be tolerant toward them – let us be Americans.”

Sadly, just two months later, President Roosevelt effectively authorized the deportation and incarceration in internment camps of Japanese nationals and United States citizens of Japanese ancestry when he signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.

Locally, the Fairfield and Suisun City city councils met on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and adopted a signal for blackouts using a fire alarm – three short blasts repeated three times was the signal. One long blast meant “all clear.”

The iconic illuminated Fairfield sign suspended over downtown since 1925 was blacked out for the duration and street lights were turned off earlier than usual.

Night basketball games at Armijo High School were dispensed with and all sporting contests were from then on to be played in the afternoon.

On Friday, Dec. 12, the first planned countywide blackout, lasting from 7:35 to 10:15 p.m., was hailed as 98 percent successful. The 2 percent who were not in compliance were chalked up to locals who had perhaps gone to the picture show and left their night lights burning.

To encourage compliance, the Fairfield City Council passed an emergency ordinance demanding all lights be extinguished immediately after blackout warning under penalty of a $300 fine or a three-month jail sentence.

Ads for U.S. Defense Savings Bonds graced the front page of the paper after the attack. Solano County Bank stated that an $18.75 bond would buy steel helmets for seven men and was redeemable in 10 years for $25.

An article, titled “What to do in the Event of an Air Raid,” listed several practical suggestions. A few were terrifying.

1. When the alarm sounds, householders must extinguish all lights.

2. Don’t go into streets. Stay indoors and find a place safe from flying glass.

3. All motorists must pull over to the curb. Extinguish lights, abandon car and seek shelter.

4. Householders should supply themselves with bags of sand to be placed throughout their dwellings.

5. Fill all household receptacles including bathtubs with water as a precaution against fires.

6. The blast of a high-explosive bomb may cause injury within 150 yards. Get behind any solid cover and lie down.

7. If an incendiary or burning bomb penetrates your house, DO NOT THROW WATER on the bomb as this will cause an explosion. Throw sand or dirt.

In the Solano Republican published on Christmas Day two weeks later, the paper urged citizens to go about their business as usual – even under the fog of war.

“This country is not under a wet blanket. We are not children. Let’s make this the best Christmas ever. The boys away from home would want it that way. Merry Christmas.”