Monday, December 8, 2014

Lex Anteinternet: A Day In the Life: Today In Wyoming's History: De...

Yesterday we took a look at December 7, 1941, in this series.  That was, of course, the day the United States was attacked by the Japanese Empire and it remains one of the most significant and well remembered days in recent American history.  We looked at that topic here:
Lex Anteinternet: A Day In the Life: Today In Wyoming's History: De...: Today in this series we take a look at our entry from  Today In Wyoming's History: December 7 : on the topic of the Japanese Attack on ..
But perhaps for many people December 8 was nearly as momentous.  People were making decisions that would impact their lives for ever. What would we have been doing on that momentous Monday?  That's what we look at here.

First of all, for a little background.  My concept of this, in this thread or series of threads, is to look at ourselves in a fashion relatable to where we actually are in life in our modern lives.  It's always fun to imagine that in any one era, we'd be in the thick of things, but for most people, most of the time, on the day of any one big event, that's probably not true.

So, in order to put a little structure to this historical exercise, I'll put some basic facts to it that relate to may life now. So, I'll assume that I'm looking at December 1941 in a manner relatable to December 2014.  If that's the case, I'd be a lawyer, age 51, with two kids and a wife, living in Casper Wyoming.

That would also mean that I would have graduated from high school 33 years ago, which is a bit problematic here as 33 years prior to 1941, there wasn't a high school in in Casper Wyoming.  There would be soon after that, but there wasn't then. There were some public schools, however.  Assuming a basic 33 year prior date, would have put me, in this historical exercise, in the Class of 1908.

Going from there, in 1981, when I graduated from high school, I joined the Army National Guard, and I went to the local community college for three years before going on to the University of Wyoming.  Assuming a kindred path isn't really certain, however, as in 1908 the Homestead Act was still in effect, and would be for some time, and it'd be hard to imagine not availing myself of that.  But then, we do have cattle now, so perhaps I can work that into the mix somehow here.  So I'll assume some connection with cattle in 08.  I'll also assume that I decided to go on to the University of Wyoming in 08, which was an open institution, when Casper College wasn't around (and still wasn't in 1941).  And I'll assume that I graduated after five years, like I did, putting me in the UW class of 1913.  I stayed in the  Guard as an artilleryman for six years, and oddly enough, the Guard at that time was also artillery.  If I went on a similar path that'd put me in the Guard until 1914, but people tended to stay in it then, so I'll extend this imaginary exercise until 1915, which would have put me into the Punitive Expedition and the mobilization for World War One.  My guess is that I would have served as an officer in World War One, mostly because being a college graduate was unusual here at that time. And I would have mustered out with the entire National Guard following the Great War, and probably wouldn't have gone back into it.

 National Guardsman, 1915.

U.S. artillery in the field, Punitive Expedition.

Of course, I've omitted law school here, and if I graduated from UW in 1913, and had a gap of a year as a geologist as I did, that doesn't quite work out.  So, to really make this work out I have to put myself in the UW graduating class of 1912 (not unrealistic) and going on to law school.  At the time I graduated in in 1986 from UW, the oilfield economy had tanked (just like its threatening to do right now), so I went on to law school.  Would I have done that in 12?  The oilfield wasn't tanking in 12, but I can imagine reasons I might have done that.  On the other hand, I might have not gone until after World War One, at which time the oilfield had definitely tanked.

Okay, so in this imaginary exercise I'm making myself dull and typical.  In 1941 I would have been a 51 year old lawyer who owned cattle too, which is exactly what I am now.  I'd have been a veteran of the National Guard, which I also am now, but I would almost certainly have been a combat veteran, which I definitely am not.

Okay, so on Monday, December 8, 1941, after an exciting and scary evening on December 7, what would I have done?

Well, at age 51 I'd be beyond regular service age, but having had prior service in this scenario (08 to 18 or 19), I would probably been able to get back in.  The Army, Navy and Marine Corps did take back in veteran NCOs and officers under certain conditions, either because they had experience or because they had specialized training in their civilian life that was applicable to a big war. And I'm in pretty good shape, so the general advancement of age that otherwise took people in this category out of returned service, I'd probably have been okay. Things like transportation, logistics, and industry were often applicable and those guys could get in even without prior service.  A law degree, on the other hand, would not fit this category,a s lawyers were of such sufficient supply that later in the war lawyers drafted into the Army often ended up as privates.

Anyhow, given that, what I've set out here, and knowing myself, my guess is that on this day I'd have probably planned on calling on the Army recruiter to see if I could get back in.  By all accounts, a lot of other people had the same idea on that day..  In 1990 when the first Gulf War was up and rolling, I did contact my old Guard unit in case they were activated, but they were not.  I didn't take that action after 9/11, but frankly like a lot of guys who have some service time, I've felt sort of guilty about it ever since, even though at the time there didn't seem to be a real service to offer in what looked like it'd probably be a short specialist campaign in Afghanistan.  I think I'd feel like a slacker if I hadn't sought to go in World War Two. Indeed, knowing myself, and given that I have a fair number of Canadian relatives, I might have felt like a slacker by December 1941, given that Canada had been at war since September 1939.

Canadian poster seeking the reenlistment of older, prior service, soldiers.

Anyhow, in 1941, the Army recruiter was in the Federal Courthouse, one block from my office, which also hosted the post office at that time.  Federal Courthouses were sort of one size fits all affairs in that day.

 Wintry view of the Federal Courthouse, as seen from my office.

I'd have probably have gotten to work about the usual time, around 8:00, and I can actually see the courthouse from one of the office windows.  My guess is, however, that there was probably a line out the front door that morning, so I'd have probably tried again around 11:00 or so to see what that looked like.  I'd care for lines much, and knowing that this was going to last awhile, I'd have just planned on later in the week if I couldn't have gotten in.

 Newsstand, December 8, 1941.

But my guess is also that a person wouldn't have been able to get in to see the recruiter that morning, or maybe all day.  Maybe I'd have gotten in later in the day, or maybe later that week, depending upon how things went.  As for my son, no way I would have let a 17 year old enlist in the service.

Anyhow, because of my current age, chances are high that I'd end up in some administrative role in the U.S. or perhaps one in the service overseas, should I have succeeded in getting in. There's a ton of jobs of this type in the service, and they are necessary, but it isn't the sort of thing a person normally imagines themselves doing, and they don't make movies about it.  In terms of film, the only example of such a portrayal I can think of is the clerk figure in 12 O'clock High, who interestingly enough is supposed to have been a lawyer who is a veteran of World War One.  Occasionally, you'll read of the rare older individual who had a combat role in the age range I'm in, but frankly, World War Two, more than World War One, and certainly more than any war before or since, was a young man's war in terms of officers.  Oddly, enlisted men were older than we sometimes suspect, with the average troop in the 20s or 30s, but that's the case with officer also.  Officers over 50, at least in combat roles, were quite rare.  Even general officers over age 50 were rare in the U.S. Army.

On December 8, however, I'd probably have spent most of the day at the office, or most of it, depending if I could have gotten in to the recruiter or not.  And even if I had been able to, I suspect for that guys in my category, they'd have said come back in a couple of weeks when we have our act more together.  It would have made for a pretty unproductive day at work, followed by a return home that evening that would have been both interesting and uncomfortable.  I don't think the news of a person's intent in these regards would necessarily have been happy news, but it would have also been a tense evening of listening to the war news on the radio, and the news of the town from the family.

It's scary, somewhat, for a person my age to ponder this out.  That's because, as noted, my son is 17. There's no way he would have escaped a titanic war like World War Two.  And he would have been of the age in which really seeing the action would have been darned near inevitable. That's a scary thing to ponder.

And how about you?  How would your day have gone.

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