The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Coastal Communities on the Front Lines
December 7, 1941, is a date that will forever be etched in the memory of the American people. It was on this day that the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. President Franklin Roosevelt’s iconic speech, delivered on the second Monday in December, declared the start of a state of war between the United States and Japan. In the wake of this attack, coastal communities like Lewes found themselves on the front lines of a war that would reshape the world.
The immediate aftermath of the attack saw local authorities in these coastal areas organize civil defense efforts to combat the threat of enemy air raids. The Delaware Pilot, the newspaper in Lewes, highlighted the need for preparedness, drawing a comparison between the British people’s eleven-month preparation for air raids in 1939 and the surprise attack that America faced. It was clear that the civilian population had a tremendous task ahead to prevent similar damage and destruction.
There were reports of hostile planes sighted over San Francisco, raising concerns about the potential for attacks on Lewes. The Delaware Pilot speculated about different forms of attack that could be launched, including long-range bombers, seaplanes refueled by submarines, and planes from aircraft carriers or mother ships. The vulnerability of Fort Miles, Fort Saulsbury, the Nylon Factory, and other vital points was a cause for concern.
Community leaders in Lewes, led by Mayor Thomas H. Carpenter, wasted no time in preparing a response to a possible enemy attack. They coordinated efforts between the police and fire departments, Beebe Hospital, the Red Cross, and other community organizations. Plans were made to evacuate children to a safe location outside of town, where first aid stations would be set up to alleviate the strain on Beebe Hospital.
Five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Delaware Coast News published a list of “Suggestions to Heed During Air Raids.” These suggestions included preparing a refuge room for families, filling bathtubs three-quarters full of water, and having five gallons of sand on each floor to fight fires. The community was urged to remain vigilant and follow these instructions to ensure their safety.
On the eve of the first air raid drill in the area, detailed instructions were published in the Delaware Coast News. These instructions covered various scenarios, including dealing with motorists on the road during a raid, extinguishing outside lights, and refraining from using the telephone. Additionally, families were advised to appoint a home warden responsible for enforcing the rules during an attack. Mothers were noted as the best candidates for this crucial role.
While submarine attacks did occur along the Delaware coast, Lewes itself was never under direct attack. Nevertheless, air raid drills and blackout regulations continued throughout the war. The five gallons of sand stored on each floor of Lewes homes were never needed, but the importance of preparedness remained ingrained in the community’s consciousness.
The attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II, and coastal communities like Lewes played a vital role in the nation’s defense. The courage and resilience displayed by these communities in the face of uncertainty and danger serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the American people during this critical time in history.
– Speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York (Transcript), Library of Congress
– Delaware Pilot, December 12, 1941
– Delaware Coast News, December 12, 1941; January 30, 1942