Remembering Pearl Harbor

History, Odd Collections, People, Traditions
on November 26, 2009
John Curry Sugar was rationed during the war. These cubes were decorated with patriotic messages and military symbols.

As a boy, Larry Shedwick was intrigued by a decal-bearing a U.S. flag and ship with the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor”stuck on the front door of his grandfather’s house in Ford City, Pa. (pop. 3,451).

Through the years, Shedwick, 71, has retained a keen interest in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that triggered America’s entry into World War II and spurred a surge of patriotism that helped the nation win the war.

“Pearl Harbor brought the country together like nothing else,” says Shedwick about the Japanese bombing of the U.S. naval base on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. The early morning raid claimed the lives of 2,403 servicemen and civilians, wounded 1,178 others, and destroyed or damaged 21 ships and hundreds of aircraft in the Pacific fleet.

Today, Shedwick and his wife, Kay, 70, both retired school teachers in Ford City, keep alive the memory of the historic and tragic event by sharing their extensive collection of Pearl Harbor and World War II memorabilia with student and veterans groups throughout the Northeast.

Among Larry’s favorite mementos is a set of red oilcloth stripes like the ones he earned collecting cans and scrap metal for the war effort as a 7-year-old member of Uncle Sam’s Tin Cannoneers. “My mother sewed these stripes on my jacket and I was so proud,” he says, holding the framed badges.

The couple’s collection includes hundreds of objects—handkerchiefs, pocketknives, pencil sharpeners, postage stamps, matchbooks and cereal boxes—emblazoned with “Remember Pearl Harbor” and “V” for “victory” that were created and sold by companies throughout the war.

Seeking an aura of authenticity, Larry proudly wears the blue overalls and steel helmet of a Civilian Defense Corps air raid warden and Kay dresses as an American Red Cross volunteer when they take their home-front keepsakes on the road, helping people remember the event that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared “a date which will live in infamy.”

While admiring the Shedwicks’ collection at a World War II encampment in May in Lancaster, Pa. (pop. 56,348), Ron Dills vividly recalls the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. His mother was ironing when she heard the news on the radio as he played near her feet. “She started sobbing and I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘Your dad’s going to have to go to war.'”

The Shedwicks’ collection is “fabulous,” says Dills, 71, of nearby Lititz (pop. 9,029). “I’ve never seen so much in one spot.”

Picking up a spoon with a cut-out V, Larry demonstrates how most of the sugar slips through the spoon. “Sugar was rationed,” he says, “and this spoon was made for the sugar bowl.”

Many goods, including sugar, coffee, gasoline, rubber tires, silk and nylon, were rationed during the war to divert supplies and armaments to American troops overseas.

“As soon as their nylons wore out, women went bare-legged, but would draw lines with eyebrow pencils to look like seams,” says Kay, who especially treasures dozens of pieces of “sweetheart jewelry,” sent by servicemen to loved ones back home.

Though Larry honored Pearl Harbor Day each year by sharing his memories with his students during his 33-year teaching career, he didn’t begin collecting Pearl Harbor memorabilia until 20 years ago. At an antiques show in Columbus, Ohio, he saw a red, white and blue decal like the one on his grandfather’s door—and memories rushed back.

“I couldn’t get that money out of my pocket fast enough,” he says.

The $3 decal sparked the Shedwicks’ treasure-hunting trips to flea markets and antique shops to find other reminders of Pearl Harbor—everything from posters advertising “Buy Defense Bonds” to Blue Star banners that mothers of servicemen placed in their windows.

“All of these things helped us through the dark period of World War II,” Larry says. “I don’t want this history to die.”