EYEWITNESS TO INFAMY
Pancakes were all that Marjorie Wilson could think about as she drifted in and out of her Sunday morning dreams. It was just another normal sunny day, or so Marjorie thought. When she could practically smell pancakes, Marjorie rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, got out bed, put on her robe and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Pleasant thoughts turned into nightmares. Did it not seem real? Was it a all a bad dream?
The date was December 7, 1941. The place was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The clock in the Wilson house was about to strike eight. Marjorie Hobbs Wilson, daughter of Walter A. Hobbs and Mary Arnold Hobbs, awoke from dreaming about pancakes to witness a nightmare, the momentous bombing of Pearl Harbor, which turned the world on its head. It was a cataclysmic day. It was a day which still lives in infamy seven decades later.
Marjorie's husband, Sergeant Major Bob Wilson, was stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor. Relations between the United States and Japan had begun to deteriorate. Many expected a war, but not that soon, and not in this way.
Bob Wilson was the first to awake that morning. The Wilsons heard no alarms, no air raid warnings. Bob, running up the steps of the couple's two story house, said, "Honey, you are missing a good mock war." Sgt. Major Wilson looked out the window again and realized that it was no drill. The roar of planes near the naval base wasn't unusual. In fact, the Wilsons and other servicemen and their families had grown accustomed to planes engaging in maneuvers.
Marjorie looked out the window. "The Jap planes were flying so low over our house that the wheels were almost rolling on the roofs. I knew it was the real thing when I saw a bomb make a direct hit," she recalled.
Bob Wilson, a veteran of the first World War, ran to his closet and began to put on his Marine uniform. Marjorie turned on the radio. Frantic broadcasters were constantly announcing that Japanese planes were attacking the Island of Oahu and for all men to report for duty at once. Bob got to his unit as soon as he could.
Marjorie Wilson first ran to the home of her girlfriend, Margaret De Sadler. Then Marjorie and Margaret went over to Harriett Hemmingway's house. As they ran down the streets, Mrs. Wilson recalled running along a quiet street, but seeing real bombs exploding nearby.
"Several girls had gathered there and we were there when the worst part was going on," Marjorie wrote in a letter to her parents later in the day. Mrs. Wilson recalled, "There were about seven kids there and all scared stiff. Harriett was almost out of her head. She has two little boys, one three and one five." I haven't been scared so far. I don't guess I've got enough sense to be."
More of the wives and their children gathered in the house. While the attack was on, the ladies kept their children calm by lying on the floor with them and drawing pictures. "I never knew anything about drawing before, but after that session, I think I am a pretty fair artist," Wilson chuckled. When one piece of shrapnel came inside the house, the children were herded into an interior room. Marjorie reached down and picked up the metallic souvenir.
Margaret accompanied Marjorie back to the Wilson house, where they put some clothes in a suitcase just in case they needed to evacuate to the hills. Bob Wilson returned to his house to make sure Marjorie had a radio to hear special announcements as all regular radio programming was suspended.
During the carefully premeditated surprise attack, Mrs. Wilson observed, "Some of the youngsters in the service ran out on the field shaking their fists at the Japanese planes even when they saw a bomb falling their way." She observed one Marine cook firing away with his anti-aircraft gun. The man suddenly remembered that he had a chocolate cake in the oven and ran to make sure it wasn't burning. "It was a silly thing to think of at a time like that - but those boys did enjoy the cake when the fireworks were over," she fondly recalled.
On that Sunday night, practically every light in Pearl Harbor was turned off. Marjorie and Margaret pulled down a mattress from the upstairs and tried to get some sleep on the downstairs floor. Marjorie took out a pen and wrote a letter back to her parents promising to let them know how she was doing as often as she could. " As soon as I can, I'll send you a wire, but I don't know now when that will be possible," she also wrote.
"We spent a pretty quiet night. Of course, Margaret and I both slept with one eye and one ear open," Marjorie recalled. The ladies had some comfort in the fact that a sentry was stationed right in front of her house.
At one o'clock in the morning, Alfred Sturgis rang the door bell and invited the ladies to come stay with him. Sturgis, who had worked all day at the Navy yard, couldn't drive his car during the blackout periods. Sturgis took Marjorie's letter and made sure it made it back to Dublin, just in time for Christmas.
After the initial shock, things at Pearl Harbor seemed to return to normal, or at least as normal as it could be under the circumstances. Marjorie remembered the blackouts every night. She recalled seeing Japanese merchants being rounded up and hauled in front of late night tribunals. She regretted that she and the other wives rarely saw their husbands. The ladies had gas, lights and water for the next day, but military officials cut off the water after reports that insurgents had poisoned the water supply.
Marjorie Hobbs returned to Atlanta three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She didn't want to come home and leave her husband behind. "I got my orders so here I am - and I am going to try to find some kind of war work to do as soon as I can," she told Celestine Sibley of the Atlanta Constitution.
Marjorie eventually returned to Dublin. She was a member of the John Laurens DAR, the Shamrock Garden Club and was the first president of the Dublin Service League. Bob Wilson made it home safely too. After retiring as a Warrant Officer from the Marine Corps, Bob owned and operated the Western Auto Store in town. He died in 1980. Marjorie Hobbs Wilson died on July 20, 2002 and is buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.
It was seventy years ago tomorrow when Marjorie Wilson woke up from a dream and witnessed that infamous day, the day the world changed forever.