Monday, December 7, 2009

Our Back Pages: This Week in Print Over the Years

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 12:54 PM

click to enlarge 1941_12dec_13--first_nashv_death.jpg
Our Back Pages brings you tidbits of Nashville history from near and far, chronologically speaking.

This week, we return to the fateful week of Dec. 7, 1941, as chronicled in the Nashville Banner. As the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged America into a new reality, the war came home to Nashville in its earliest days.

Even though the nation had been scrambling to get onto a war footing for more than a year as German forces rolled across Europe, much of the population continued to hope the U.S. could stay out of the conflict. The weekend chatter in the Banner reflected less weighty matters of public concern.

On Friday afternoon, Dec. 5, sportswriter Dudley "Waxo" Green reflected on one aspect of Vanderbilt's recently completed football season, in which the squad had posted an 8-2 record. Young scribe Green recounted a chat with a young assistant coach for the Commodores:
Vanderbilt's 7 to 0 victory over Alabama was the high of the season for Line Coach Bear Bryant. But the Commodore mentor had another thrill that all but put the triumph in the shade.

It was the play of Alf Satterfield, sophomore tackle, in the final three games of the season.
"The way Satterfield came through at the fag end of the season gave me one of the greatest thrills," said Bryant. "His play against Alabama and Tennessee was about as good as any tackle play we had all year."
Satterfield would go on, after his military service, to play for the San Francisco 49ers. In the decades to come, Waxo Green would become one of the nation's leading golf journalists.

And whether he already knew it or not, Paul "Bear" Bryant had already coached his last Vanderbilt players. An item next to Green's story hinted at the imminent firing of the head coach at the University of Arkansas. The Razorbacks would offer that job to Bryant, but events later in the weekend would change everyone's plans. Bryant enlisted in the Navy soon after Pearl Harbor, putting off his head coaching career until 1945. When he retired from Alabama after the 1982 season, he was the winningest coach in college football history.

Saturday's paper included a full-page ad from Nashville Electric Service proclaiming: "The emergency is over!" In November, federal officials had imposed restrictions on electricity use in the Tennessee Valley Authority's service region. A drought was impeding hydroelectric generation, and defense industries had first claim on the available kilowatts. Now that the bans on lighted signs, night football games and other power drains were lifted, NES wanted to make sure its customers didn't fall into energy-conservation habits that could harm its bottom line.

And then came the news from Hawaii.

Banner publisher Jimmy Stahlman, who had pushed an isolationist agenda throughout the pre-war years, reacted to the attack with the same nuanced restraint he would show a generation later in applauding the killing of Vietnam war protesters at Kent State University. Stahlman's front-page poem read in part:
Let's blockade their population into starvation.
Let's bomb their cities to shambles.
Let's give them what they asked for.
Let's blast
And shoot
And bomb
And burn.
Let's put the dirty yellow beasts
Where they belong....
To Hell with the slant-eyed Son of Heaven.
To Hell with his seventy million little yellow devils.
That's my ticket.
I hope you like it.
Let's get going!
Sports editor Fred Russell echoed Stahlman's lines in a column a couple of days later.

Under the poem (and continuing to an inside page) was a story on Nashvillians known to be in the war zone, including former local socialite Cornelia Fort, who had become a flight instructor in Hawaii:
In her last letter, Miss Fort recounted that "the streets of Honolulu were teeming with Army and Navy men and were lined with defense workers." She did not indicate, however, that any disturbance was pending in that area and commented only on the "peaceful and beautiful country and the enjoyable American gatherings that were frequent at the Pearl Harbor Officers' Club."
Only later would her family learn that Fort had been in the air near Pearl Harbor as the Japanese attack began. She had to grab the controls from her student and swerve to avoid an oncoming enemy bomber. She then landed the aircraft under fire.

Fort went on to join the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, flying military aircraft to bases around the country. On March 21, 1943, when the airplane she was ferrying went down after a mid-air collision over Texas, Cornelia Fort became the country's first female military pilot to be killed in the line of duty.

Civilian life did go on with some normalcy in the days after the attack. For instance, local kids in a group sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Battle Rodes went out caroling to collect donations for the Fannie Battle Day Home. But the news soon began to reflect the war effort, as when a photo showed a Banner newsboy selling defense stamps to students at West End High School who were refugees from the European conflict. At least one of the youngsters in the picture, Henry Sender, would return to Europe as an American soldier by war's end.

And before the week ended, the paper would carry the first news of a local service member killed in combat:
BEN EDWARD HOLT, 21, Negro mess attendant, was listed today as the first Nashville man to give his life for his country in the war against Japan. Holt's sister, Inez Stewart, received a letter from Honolulu last Saturday in which the boy said he had ordered two tons of coal for his mother and father for Christmas. Yesterday Elder R. E. Holt, Sr., minister of the Negro Church of Christ in Springfield, received a telegram from Rear Admiral C. W. Munitz [sic; the name was Nimitz] saying that Ben was "lost in action in the performance of his duty and in the services of his country." The boy's mother and father, four brothers, Mack, R. E., Jr., Homer Cleoplus, and Hawthorne, and two sisters, Mary and Juanita Holt, all live at 508 Fourteenth Avenue, North. His grandmother, Missouri Oliver, also survives. Holt graduated from Pearl High School of Nashville and then attended A&I State College here for one year.
The newspaper would go on to report that Seaman First Class James Dewey Wauford and Radioman Robert H. Bennett, both from Nashville and both 20 years of age, had also died at Pearl Harbor.

Curiously, the names of Holt, Wauford and Bennett are missing from an official list of Navy dead from Nashville that was compiled after the war. They are also not included in the National Park Service's lists of those who perished aboard the USS Arizona and elsewhere at Pearl Harbor.

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