December of that year changed everyone’s life. Robert, Bill, Paul and I were at Summers Drug store at the corner of Donaldson and Fredericksburg Road, where Robert’s mom was the manager, when the news came over the Radio that Sunday morning. We could not believe that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Where is Pearl Harbor? We did not have a clue, but to a man we started talking about how we could sign up for the military to protect our country. It was thought by everyone that the Japanese would be landing on the California coast momentarily.
We went over to Charlotte’s and other friends began to show up. We all huddled around the radio listening for the latest developments. Of course there was no TV or cell phone back then. The radio was all we had. We were speculating when the Japanese forces would land in California, then move into Arizona, New Mexico and then Texas. The Germans would be landing on the East coast or maybe on the Gulf Coast. All the guys were talking about what firearms they had.
We all were hunters and would hunt doves together each September. Any of us could hit a dove moving at sixty miles an hour.We had a favorite place along a ridge, a little north of where TJ High School is now. We could line up across this ridge, look east across a little valley, and see the birds coming towards us as they went to water to the west behind us in the late afternoon.
I had a 20-gauge shotgun, Robert had an old single shot Iver Johnson shotgun, and Bill had his dad’s 16-gauge pump shotgun. My gun was a double barrel with one barrel a full choke barrel, and the other barrel was an open choke. An open choke let the shot scatter soon after it leaves the barrel, and the full choke holds the pattern for a long time to hit a target farther away. I was the only one who had a full choke; so all the hard shots that were too far for the other guns were mine. One day we were hunting on the ridge and someone hollers, “here comes one for George.”
I looked up and that bird was way too high to chance a shot, but since I had been designated, I had to try. I started tracking that bird which was way up there carrying the mail. I led him, I thought, about half a block and squeezed off my shot from my full choke barrel. Well, we watched, and I was about to turn around when the shot got there and miracle of miracles, that bird dropped like a rock. I ran off through the mesquite and thorn bushes and found the bird. As I walked back to the rest of the guys, they were exclaiming about what a shot it was and could not believe it, and so forth. I told them in detail how I carefully tracked the bird, checked the windage, and calculated how far to lead him. The truth was, it was nothing but pure dumb luck that I had hit that bird. I did acquire the reputation of the best long-range shot in the group.
Several of us had spent several years in the National Rifle Association program learning to shoot a little straighter. We also had a firing range in the basement of the High School where all the ROTC guys practiced. The night of December 7th we all checked our guns and the next day we were at the hardware store for more ammunition, but they were already sold out. This may sound like overkill to you in today’s world, but at that time everyone-including all adults and the Federal Government-expected an invasion of our west coast by the Japanese, and of our east coast by the Nazi Germans. I tell you one thing, if the invasions had occurred they would have had a real fight on their hands. We were not alone in our attitude, as the same attitude prevailed in every state and every town throughout the entire United States. It was like 9-11 had occurred in every town in our country.
In the next 60 days, we all tried to enlist, but the military would not take 16 year olds. Several of us found out that the Royal Canadian Air Force would take 17 year olds, so we made application. They said since I would be 17 in January, they would accept me if my parents approved. My Mom agreed, but when I flew over to Houston in a Braniff Airways 14 passenger airliner, my Dad said no. He wanted me to finish high school and go to college for as long as possible before I joined the service. This was a lucky decision for me, because several of my classmates who were accepted did not come home. Ed Atkin lost his life when his plane was shot down over Burma, Blair Reeves came back paralyzed from the waist down, and two of the boys from our football team lost their life on the beach at Guadalcanal.
My three close buddies and I all finally joined the service when we were 17. Robert joined the Navy and became a Commissioned Line Officer aboard ship, first in the Atlantic and then in the Pacific. Billy joined the Army Air Corp and flew pursuit planes, mostly P-40’s and then Corsairs. Paul joined the Army, and was terribly wounded with shrapnel in his chest, leading a platoon as a Lt. at Subic Bay on the Philippine island of Luzon. I wanted to fly, of course, because of my flying experience, but I was turned down everywhere because of being so near sighted. I joined the Navy and wound up a Supply officer in a Navy Construction Battalion (Seabees), also in the Philippines.
Photo of dove hunting found here.