Baltimore's response to attack People gaped at headlines, then signed up.

December 06, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

It began as an ordinary Sunday in Baltimore in 1941.

James M. Merritt ate dinner with his brother-in-law at the Govans Grill, and then they drove up York Road until they spotted an unusual sight: newsboys on the street selling "extras" of The Sun.

Merritt, then 35, stopped and bought one. He stared at the huge headline: JAPS DECLARE WAR ON U.S./HONOLULU, MANILA BOMBED/NAVAL BATTLE OFF HAWAII.

Merritt remembers saying: "My God, they've bombed Pearl Harbor -- the rotten so-and-so's!" He and his brother-in-law, he says, were mad as hornets.

"There're two things I remember above all: the day Kennedy was shot, and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor," says Merritt, 85, who lives in the Charlestown retirement community after a long career in the local wholesale produce business.

Many others in Baltimore were mad as hornets. The Army and Navy recruiting centers stayed open 24 hours a day to sign up all the angry young men wanting to avenge the sneak attack.

An officer at the naval center, referring to the line of volunteers, told an Evening Sun reporter: "This is Baltimore's answer to Japan."

An unidentified man herded a local Japanese family of five -- mother, father, three children -- into the Northeastern District police station, claiming he'd heard on the radio that all Japanese should be turned over to the police.

The Evening Sun ran a story describing the physical differences of Chinese and Japanese people -- apparently at the request of Chinese residents who'd been harassed by irate citizens.

Fearing sabotage, defense plants around Baltimore tightened security. The city's "Home Guard" began to patrol Loch Raven and Prettyboy dams, water supply stations and reservoirs, sewage-treatment plants and the municipal airport.

Meanwhile, many people feared that Japanese or German planes might somehow bomb Baltimore, or Washington or Philadelphia or New York.

The lead headline in The Evening Sun two days after Pearl Harbor read: "N.Y. GETS 2 RAID WARNINGS." The Associated Press reported that New York had been put on air-raid alert twice "amid varying and unconfirmed reports of an imminent attack by hostile planes."

Another lead story that day read: "PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Authoritative sources here, which did not wish to be named, said it was reliably reported that 'hostile forces' were an hour outside of Boston at 2 p.m."

Baltimore Mayor Howard W. Jackson formed a civil defense committee to set up a blackout and air-raid system. Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor ordered blackouts in all communities with populations of 5,000 or more, and recommended them in smaller communities as well.

Maryland's Aircraft Warning Service sprang into constant duty. Aircraft spotters at 350 observation posts in the state reported all sightings to a central office in Baltimore, "the location of which is a closely guarded secret," The Evening Sun reported.

The newspaper published the following news-to-use: "What To Do When Raid Signal Sounds."

And the J. Preston Short Insurance Agency placed an ad for "WAR AND BOMBARDMENT COVERAGE."

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