December 7,1941, a Date Which Will Live in Infamy....December thoughts by our County Historian

President Roosevelt

Like virtually all Americans 85 or older, I distinctly remember how I learned that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor early in the morning of December 7, 1941. I, two months short of age 9, was living with my parents and younger siblings on Ninth Street in Troy on the first floor of a two-storey house where the Feeney family lived in the flat above. In the early afternoon of that fateful Sunday, Marge Feeney came down the back stairway and rushed in, shouting to my mother “Ceil, turn on your radio, the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!”

I was not surprised. A daily cover to cover reader of the Troy Record, I was well aware that Japanese and American officials had been in heated negotiation as to war vs. peace. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, still fresh from winning a third term the year before, was stunned by the enormous damage and loss of life caused by the attack, but could hardly be surprised either. On November 25, just 12 days before, he had said that “The Japanese were notorious for making an attack without warning, as they had done against China in 1894, Russia in1904, Manchuria in 1931, and China again in 1937.

William Landrum "Billy" Mitchell (December 29, 1879 - February 19, 1936) was a United States Army general who is regarded as “The Father of the U.S. Air Force.|” As early as 1910, four years before the outbreak of World War I, he predicted that the day would come when Japan would attack the United States. World War I extended from 1914 through 1918 without that happening, but two years later, 1920, Mitchell repeated and refined his prediction to say that it would be Pearl Harbor that Japan would attack, as indeed it did, on the Day of Infamy, five years after he died.

Late in 1936, when I was four and a half and living on Eight Street in Troy, I looked out the window and watched a cadre of teen-angers throwing an assortment of wooden objects into a raging bonfire. Why are they doing that, I asked my father, Edwin D. Reilly Sr., a metallographer who commuted weekdays to his job at GE in Schenectady. “They are supporting the local campaign on behalf of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a candidate for a second 4-year term,” he answered. This was the beginning of my education as to the many accomplishments of our 32nd President.  Principal among them was the recovery from a severe economic depression that began on the watch of his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, now ranked by historians as the third worst President in U.S. history. The top ten presidents in several rankings, first to tenth, are Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and John Adams.

The recession was still rather severe in 1934. An issue of the GE Works News that year said: “Defying the recession, Ed Reilly and his wife Cecelia produced daughter Dorothy.” By two years later, the recession was essentially over and what had been Ed Senior’s reduced work schedule was returned to full-time. Thereafter, each winter, every time he had to mount chains on his car in order to reach GE, he would say “Next year, we’re moving to Schenectady.” The closest he would get was Latham, in his fifty’s, but Ed Jr. and Jean Reilly have been living in Niskayuna, Schenectady County, for 55 years, grateful that their car tires do not need chains. Progress!

 


 

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