In Arthur Schlessinger Jr.'s book. "A Thousand Days," President John F. Kennedy is quoted as saying that almost all Americans alive at the time will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of these two events: the attack on Pearl Harbor and the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Ominously, JFK could not have guessed the end of his own life would mark a third such date.

Today is the anniversary of the first date. And JFK was right! Recall is nearly total in my case. Shortly after noon, I was shooting baskets at Lincoln Playground in Oakland on that mild yet overcast Sunday. All alone, I'd shoot, rebound, dribble and put the ball up again in a make-believe basketball tournament.

After Notre Dame won again as usual, a stop at Pop's nearby hamburger shack was next. Before I could order a root beer thirst-quencher, however, the 60-something gray-haired fellow we called Pop told me something difficult to believe -- the Japanese had attacked us at Pearl Harbor.

"What? Are they crazy?" I remember saying. "Those guys fly around in paper airplanes. We'll wipe 'em out in six months!"

I was naively wrong on both counts. Their planes were quite substantial, and it took nearly four long and costly years before we ended what had begun at Pearl Harbor.

Once reality set in, those of us living on the West Coast began feeling vulnerable. If they could cross the Pacific all the way to Hawaii, what would keep them from hitting California?


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Have you ever experienced a blackout? The whole city went dark. No lights. No moon. You wouldn't know who you were talking to unless you recognized his voice. Planes overhead -- ours or theirs? It may seem foolish today; but that's the way our thinking went during the first few days after Pearl Harbor.

Do you know where the Rose Bowl Game was played a month later? Not in Pasadena. The game was moved away from the West Coast to Durham, N.C. And radio broadcasters weren't allowed to tell us the weather. In rain, snow or sunshine, Oregon State won out 20-16 over Duke.

Years later, I learned of a remarkable hero on that catastrophic Sunday. His name was George Walters, a civilian crane operator. With the attack in progress, Walters rushed to the harbor, climbed up to the cab of his crane and began maneuvering back and forth in front of the dry-docked USS Pennsylvania.

On the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I interviewed two former Pennsylvania crewmen, Rusty Ryan and Mickey Ganitch. Both agreed Walters was a savior that day. He had made it nearly impossible for enemy torpedo planes to hit their big battleship, which happened to be the flagship of the U.S. Fleet.

A civilian! He didn't have to be there. That's patriotism to the nth degree.

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.