A World War II poster's message: Remember Pearl Harbor.
A Japanese pilot's-eye view of the attack.
|1941: Off to war|
|By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian|
| Paradise on earth, that's what Pearl Harbor was for Army wife Winifred Lanham: a place of tropical languor and sparkling beaches, 6,000 miles from the ice and chill that were beginning to pervade her hometown of Mount Holly.
Sure, the warnings abounded that December of 1941 that the mighty American armada being assembled in Hawaii might have to go to war — might steam off to battle any day to counter Japanese aggression in Asia.
But Pearl Harbor itself come under attack? Preposterous.
"We didn't know anything," Lanham, now 84 and living in Ewing, remembered. "We were enjoying a good life. And we were Americans. We didn't think they would do anything to Americans."
Sunday morning, Dec. 7, was a day that shattered many illusions.
The Lanhams woke early, with Sgt. Ralph Lanham needed at Schofield Barracks to sign work orders, Winifred Lanham trying to get her 7-
year-old daughter dressed for Sunday school.
Shortly after 8 a.m. came the roar of planes overhead, and Mrs. Lanham could only wonder why the American flyboys were hugging the earth so close. Her husband was the one who said: "Those aren't ours." Then came the thunder of explosions.
Mrs. Lanham found herself being evacuated to Honolulu, while her husband went to the barracks to help in the defense.
"We were packed up in these canvas-topped trucks for carrying pineapples," recalled Mrs. Lanham. "Oh, the kids were upset. My 14-month-old threw up into his sister's hair. My instinct was to tell them it was all OK, even though I had no idea if it was OK.
"On the road to Honolulu, I remember seeing these great plumes of black smoke pouring from battleship row — it was only later I learned that hundreds of men were dying on those ships."
Mrs. Lanham and her two scared, crying children huddled in the basement of a school building for a day before she learned her husband, back at the barracks, was safe.
It also took that long for her to grasp the magnitude of what had happened: America plunged unaware into the brutal bloodbath known as World War II. It was a war from which 517 Mercer County men would not return.
They had names like Goodman and Walsh and Smith, Pallone and Mikolajczyk and Cohen. The complete list of Mercer's war dead takes up three pages on a grim honor roll issued by the state when peace finally arrived in 1945.
It started with such enthusiasm.
Prisoner of war
Nicholas Katzenbach, a 19-year-old Princeton University student whose uncle was once mayor of Trenton, was fired up with patriotism and a desire for revenge when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor. He was so fired up, in fact, that he skipped his classes and drove to New York to enlist.
A month later, Katzenbach was getting a commission in the Army Air Force — and saying goodbye for four years to a life of comfort in one of Princeton's most prominent families.
Trained as a navigator in B-25 bombers, Nick Katzenbach got his baptism of fire by flying missions over Italy and the Mediterranean Sea in support of the North African campaign. If he made it through his 19th bombing run, on Feb. 23, 1943, he would get rest care.
"We hit five Italian barges with six bombs," Katzenbach said. "And then a destroyer hit us. Our left wing caught fire and we crashed into the sea at 270 miles per hour."
Katzenbach survived. But once he and his surviving crew got into a life raft, they were captured by an Italian seaplane.
The POWs ended up at Stalag Luft 3, near Sagan, Germany. It was later celebrated for the "Great Escape," where 76 American and British soldiers staged a cunning tunnel breakout. Katzenbach did not go, but he helped simply by
hiding the excavated dirt.
The enemy within the POW compound was not the Germans, not terror, not the hunger, even though Katzenbach lost 45 pounds off his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. The enemy was boredom.
"Oh, just frustrating," Katzenbach said. "I had a way to deal with it, though. I said, I'll only be in prison for 90 days, and when the 90 days were over, I'd say it again, and when those 90 days were over, I'd say it again. And eventually I was right."
Katzenbach had another way to deal with the boredom. In two years of captivity, he read 500 books supplied by the YWCA — Plato, Shakespeare, Galsworthy, Locke, Herodotus.
When he was finally liberated in March 1945, he didn't have to go back to college. All he did was take his exams, and he was allowed to graduate.
It was good enough. Nicholas Katzenbach went on to become attorney general of the United States under Lyndon Johnson, and a key figure in the civil rights struggle who delivered the order to integrate the University of Alabama.
Now 78 and living in Princeton, he still practices law and is serving as adviser for his son, John, who is writing a novel — about life in a POW camp.
Hitting the beaches
Once, he had belonged to America First, a group that opposed getting involved in the Europe war. But after Pearl Harbor, Joe Czillich of Federal Street, Trenton, had little choice but to get involved.
He was drafted into the Army, trained at Fort Dix and sent to England to join the mightiest invasion force in history — the Allied army whose mission was to reconquer France.
On March 29, 1944, Czillich married his Welsh sweetheart, Mary Hughes. She was under few illusions about what might happen, for Czillich and his unit in the Army Transportation Corps were assigned to hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
"I did not expect to come back alive," Czillich recalled.
D-Day, June 6, was a time of confusion, blunders — and luck.
A minesweeper guiding in Czillich's landing craft got sunk. Another on his flank had its propellers caught in hawsers and had to turn back. As a result, Czillich ended up 2,000 yards east of his objective on Utah Beach.
Fire from German pillboxes and gun emplacements pinned the invaders down in a shallow ditch that made for a temporary foxhole. Czillich made it over a seawall and crouched in a depression in the sand. He nudged a GI to move further inland with him — only to discover the man was dead.
From the corner of his eye, Czillich saw his buddy, foolishly standing exposed to enemy fire as he tried to wrench off a life jacket. Czillich rushed over, grabbed his friend and ran with him to safety. "Moments later, a German shell landed not more than a few feet from where we'd been standing," Czillich said.
The time of mortal danger passed within days. Czillich's job was to help move trucks and jeeps and carriers inland, and he did it for months more. He returned to the states with V-E Day in 1945, unscathed.
Czillich eventually settled in Hamilton, where he runs an accounting firm today at age 77. Every 6th of June, however, Czillich takes part in a ceremony to honor the men who fell at D-Day. "It's just a shame to me that more people don't appreciate how terrible a sacrifice it was," he said.
Thomas Franciamore, a pool-shooting, fun-loving kid who lived on Tyrell Avenue in Trenton's North Ward, had never heard of a place called Pearl Harbor. But he was ready to fight for his country. "We were all green about things like war," Franciamore said. "We were like, let's go get 'em."
At basic infantry training in Fort McKellen, Ala., he met his best buddy in the Army, a "Swedish farm kid" from Minnesota. Franciamore, his buddy and the rest of the Americal Division shipped out for Guadalcanal in the spring of 1943. There, a Japanese sniper killed Franciamore's buddy, and he began to learn the harsh truths of war.
"You didn't give the Japanese any quarter, because they were willing to die for their emperor," Franciamore recalled. "There was one skirmish where we had to clean out the Japanese from this little village. Well, we just lobbed hand grenades in there and shot every Japanese. Not one Japanese was left alive. They just wouldn't surrender."
When Guadalcanal was mopped up of resistance, Franciamore was bound for Bougainville, then the Philippines. Everywhere lurked the unseen, terrifying menace of the Japanese. Everywhere was the creeping humidity, the lousy food, the malaria which gave him the shivers one moment, the sweats the next.
In the summer of 1945, Franciamore was due to ship out for the invasion of Japan, a certain bloodbath he thought he would never survive. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, ended the war, and Franciamore and his fellow GI's staged a riotous celebration in their rest camp.
"We all thought Harry Truman was the greatest man alive when he dropped that bomb," said Franciamore, now living in Hamilton. "It was like we were saved from certain death."
Men with a mission
If you watched the newsreels and read the popular magazines of the '40s, you might have thought the war was being fought and won solely by white Americans.
Leslie Hayling knew better, for he knew all about the Tuskegee Airmen.
As a young, African-American boy growing up in a Trenton that was still a Jim Crow town, Hayling loved to go to Mercer Airport. "I'd watch the pilots take off and land," Hayling recalled, "and imagine myself flying one of those things."
And it was not a far-fetched possibility. Elwood Driver, who attended the same black church as young Leslie on Spring Street, was an engineering genius who applied for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1941.
Driver finished ahead of every white applicant on the test, posing a problem for the academy's officers, who had never before admitted a black midshipman and did not want to break the color line. They gave him a physical and flunked him for his overbite.
Furious but focused, Driver applied instead at the Army Air Force. Fortunately, the air unit was setting up an "experiment" to find out if blacks could succeed in combat. Doubters — including the Air Force's top brass — didn't think so. Blacks were "physically and mentally unfit for combat,"
Still, Driver was trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and commissioned a fighter pilot in the 99th Pursuit Squadron. On Feb. 2, 1944, over Anzio Beach, Italy, Driver achieved every fighter pilot's dream — shooting down a German plane. Another all-black unit, the 332nd, boasted of being the only escort squadron in Italy never to lose a bomber.
With these tales of heroism ringing in his ears, Leslie Hayling enlisted in the Air Force as soon as he turned 18 in 1945. At Tuskegee, he learned to execute barrel rolls, vertical 8s and split S's with breathtaking precision that dazzled his instructors.
The war ended too soon for Hayling to go into combat — not to his disappointment. Driver, decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, went on to have a long post-war military career and died in 1992. Hayling is a practicing dentist on West State Street.
"They said we didn't have the same fighting capacities as the white man," Hayling said. "The Tuskegee Airmen showed they were wrong."
Sweet songs for GIs
As a teenage singer, Florence Perilli wowed Trenton audiences with her soft soprano voice as she performed at Cadwalader Park. When she was 20, she left her Chestnut Avenue home to tour the country.
Then came the war, and Perilli's brothers, William and Gus, went into the Army. Perilli too decided to join — with the United Service Organization.
Through 1942-44, she sang at Army bases stateside, then remote outposts in Iceland and Greenland. Early in 1945, with hundreds of thousands of GIs swarming toward Berlin, she entertained them by singing at mess halls, airfields and improvised stages.
A charming blond in a lacy gown, Perilli might open her act by trilling "Prisoner of Love," then move on to "Ave Maria" and "Stardust." Every day held two or three concerts in store. To get from base to base, Perilli would sit in the cargo hold of a C-47 transport plane, whiling her time by playing poker with performers who included Stubby Kaye and Louis Prima.
"We'd eat Spam for four weeks and then corned beef in a can for another four weeks," she recalled. "If the GI's could take it, we could take it. We weren't risking our lives like they were."
The sacrifice of war was brought home when Perilli lost her brother, William, in the Pacific in 1944. Her other brothers survived, and Maurice Perilli is now chairman of Roma National Bank.
Florence Perilli had one of her most successful singing dates toward the war's end, when she landed at an airbase in Labrador. There she met an airman, Fritz Hertel, who she fell in love with and became engaged to in five days. Florence Perilli is now Mrs. Fritz Hertel, and lives with her husband in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Once he had covered farm extension programs, school boards and borough elections as managing editor of his hometown paper, the Hightstown Gazette. But when he was drafted into the Army in September 1943, George Foster Dennis found himself in a new role — war correspondent.
George Dennis was blond, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, full of life and inquisitiveness. He'd been a newsman for life, ever since he'd toddled through the Gazette office as a young boy. At Syracuse University, he studied journalism and graduated magna cum laude in 1942.
Private George Dennis shipped out to Italy early in 1944. For months, he and the men of the 45th Division were pinned on the bloody beachhead of Anzio. When he wasn't shouldering a rifle or scrounging up chow, Dennis wrote dispatches home describing — as good-naturedly as possibly — the terror and deprivations of combat.
His parents, now running the Hightstown Gazette, printed every word of his letters. This was Dennis writing about German shelling: "It scares the devil out of all of us. I know I've practically eaten blankets as I sweated out a barrage in a foxhole. You hunch up in a position much like that of a cat asleep and start praying. Sometimes you think you could actually burrow into the ground with your nose."
And this was Dennis lamenting the lack of good, cold, American beer on the hot battlefront: "So far I haven't been able to wrap my lips around a bottle and caress my tonsils with the carbonated fluid."
In August, Dennis and the 45th were shipped to another invasion front, in southern France. There was little resistance at first. As he moved inland, Dennis was overwhelmed by the beauty of the French countryside and wrote in this letter that ran in the Gazette Sept. 28:
"Now there is not a murmur but that of the wind. Ah, an airplane skirts the valley and speeds away. Silence again. A solitary blackbird glides overhead, contented to flap its wings only enough to keep it in air as it watches the calm scene below.
"'God's in His heaven; All's right with the world,' Robert Browning would have agreed."
By the time his words were printed, Dennis was already dead. On Sept. 10, he had volunteered for a quartering party near the Bellefort Gap. The men did not know the territory had been reoccupied by a German force and were caught by surprise when shells landed amid them.
Dennis was wounded by shrapnel. The next day he died at age 23.
George Dennis' name has never been taken off the Highstown Gazette masthead. It appears in every week's issue followed by the words: "Killed in Action, Sept. 11, 1944."