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Damaged tail section of an American airplane; Soldier walks through a bombed out building

Pearl Harbor Remembered: Oregonians and the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Ruined firehouse and fire truck; Heavily damaged aircraft hanger


From left to right: Damaged tail section of an American airplane; Soldier walks through a bombed out building; Ruined firehouse and fire truck; Heavily damaged aircraft hanger. (Oregon State Archives-Highway Division Records)

Oregon Responds

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Governor Charles Sprague

 

Governor Charles A. Sprague, 1939-1943


pon hearing the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Oregonians shared feelings of shock, disbelief, fear, anger, and sadness. The attack galvanized Americans, many of whom just a day earlier had believed strongly in isolationism. News from Pearl Harbor was relayed to the mainland by telephone, telegraph, and teletype during Sunday morning. The United States government heavily censored the news, refusing to release information about the number of ships sunk or the number of casualties. The next day the United States declared war on Japan, triggering total American involvement not only in the Pacific but also in the war raging in Europe.

In Salem Governor Charles Sprague quickly took action. In addition to being governor, he was the publisher of the Oregon Statesman newspaper. The paper already had delivered the regular Sunday edition when the news broke. Sprague ordered all of the staff back to work to publish an "Extra" edition. An editorial on the front page braced the readers for the inevitable: "We are at war. Well, we have been at war before and have acquitted ourselves honorably. We will do so again. We are all Americans in this war of defense."

Wire statement from Governor Charles Sprague to President Franklin Roosevelt on the day of the attack

Read wire statement from Governor Charles Sprague to President Franklin Roosevelt on the day of the attack. (Governor Sprague Records-correspondence)


The same day Sprague wired a message to President Franklin Roosevelt assuring "full support of the human and material resources of the State of Oregon." In a related statement, he called for vigilance against espionage and sabotage but interestingly made an appeal for the rights of Americans of Japanese descent who were living in Oregon: "...these Japanese-Americans who are citizens should not be molested." Roosevelt's secretary wrote back with thanks for Sprague's support and went on to praise the support of the "many loyal citizens in all parts of the country." Just months later, on April 1, 1942, the U.S. government began the systematic "evacuation" all Japanese-Americans in Oregon and elsewhere on the West Coast. The evacuees were sent to internment camps for the duration of the war because they were determined to be a risk to national security. Many of those who spent years in the internment camps were members of families that included American citizens for several generations. Decades later the U.S. government formally apologized and made reparations to the survivors of the camps.

On Monday, December 8 Governor Sprague issued a proclamation (page 1 | page 2) declaring an "unlimited emergency" and outlining steps to coordinate military, law enforcement, and civilian defense organizations throughout the state. In the coming weeks, months, and years the Oregon Defense Council, headed by Sprague, developed policies for the protection of Oregon's coasts, forests, and civilian population from potential enemy invasions (see the transcript of a Sprague radio address describing these actions - 12 page PDF document). The threat loomed as more than theoretical. Over the course of the war Japanese submarines ranged off of the Oregon coast and Japanese incendiary bombs carried by balloons fell on Oregon forests starting fires. The Oregon State Archives holds a colorful group of records from the Oregon Defense Council detailing the prodigious efforts to keep the state safe from invasion.

Sources:
Statesman Journal: Dec 7, 1991, Sp. Sec. pg. 7
Radio address transcript: Oregon State Archives Defense Council Records, Special Bulletins 1941

On to USS Sederstrom


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