Looking back: We are at war

Published 11:17 am Thursday, December 8, 2016

by Clyde Parker

Dec. 12, 1941

[Editor’s note: Clyde Parker, who regularly contributes to this newspaper with his column Looking Back, has provided this excerpt from what The Tidewater News had published soon after the infamous attack at the American base in Hawaii. He also interviewed a couple of people who distinctly recall that event.]

The country, indeed the world, is now well aware that we are now at war. The impact of the surprise attack by Japan upon the United States, at Pearl Harbor, last Sunday morning, December 7, was so great that it is difficult for Americans to think clearly about the full implications of that catastrophic event.   

The next day, Monday, December 8, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war. He began his address with these words: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date that will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” And, our Congress did, indeed, declare that a state of war exists between the United States of America and the Japanese Empire. There were two dissenting votes, one in the House of Representatives, by Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin of Montana, and one in the United States Senate, by Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota.

While the nation was gravely disturbed over the complete failure of peace negotiations, it was not prepared for the underhanded attack made by the Japanese while their diplomats were still in Washington, handing to Secretary of State Cordell Hull Japan’s negative reply to President Roosevelt’s final appeal to cease their aggressions against their Asian neighbors.

Just five days have passed since the attack; it has not fully permeated our lives, not yet, but it will.

We here in Franklin and Southampton are not immune to this great tragedy. Our young men have been and are, increasingly, being called to service in defense of our nation and our way of life. Now, many more will be called to serve.

Cotton McClenny, United States Navy enlisted man, and son of Mr. and Mrs. L.C. McClenny of Franklin, is thought to be somewhere in the Pacific war zone. Cotton wrote to his parents on November 20 stating that he expected to be transferred from the battleship West Virginia to the transport ship Chaumont the following day, and that he thought the Chaumont was going to leave for China or the Philippine Islands that same day.

The U.S.S. West Virginia is one of the battleships claimed to have been sunk by the Japanese; but the United States Government has not officially confirmed this, as of this writing.

On the home front, steps are being taken to do our fair share and whatever we can and, in fact, whatever it takes, to protect our community and our nation, and our way of life.

On Tuesday, December 9, Mrs. T.B. Bell, of Courtland, Chairman of the Southampton County Chapter of the American Red Cross, received a telegram from Norman H. Davis, Chairman of the American Red Cross in Washington, DC. It is reproduced below:

“Again, the American Red Cross is called upon to serve our Nation in war. Both nationally and locally, we face vast, indefinite responsibilities for services to our armed forces and for relief to distressed civilians. To provide essential funds, Red Cross is launching a campaign for war funds of a minimum of fifty million dollars. President  Roosevelt will issue on Friday a proclamation supporting this appeal. Your chapter’s quota is thirty-five hundred dollars. Chapters may retain 15 percent of their collections for local war relief expenditures. Chapters should, at once, devote full efforts to raising their quotas in the shortest possible time. Please report action taken. We must not, and shall not, fail in this crisis.”


Acting quickly to prepare the communities of Southampton County for the most extreme possible eventualities, previously organized response plans are now being looked at and “fine tuned” in terms of looming reality. 

On Monday, December 8, during an emergency meeting of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors, Chairman L.H. Babb appointed Junius W. Pulley of Courtland to act as Civilian Defense Coordinator for the County.

And, in the Town of Franklin, officials have called together an organization that will be on the alert to possible air attacks in southeastern Virginia. At a called meeting of the Town Commission on Monday, December 8, C.C. Vaughan, 3rd was named civilian defense coordinator for the town, assuming authority over all of the local agencies established to meet any emergency that the war might bring. 

“While it is realized that some of this organizational effort might seem superfluous at the present time, no one can say when it might become highly necessary,” Vaughan said following the meeting. “Enemy air raids could be visited upon this section of the Country. We are next to the Norfolk Naval Base, just 45 miles away.”

On Wednesday night, December 10, Mayor R.H. Powell, Jr. held another meeting of the Town Commission, chiefly for the purpose of reviewing emergency plans and to adopt an emergency ordinance empowering the Mayor and/or Town Manager to, if circumstances dictate, promulgate additional rules and regulations that might apply during air raids and blackouts.

Specifically, for now, T.J. Crooks, Town Manager was authorized, during that meeting, to execute an application for a permit for a power line crossing over the Southern Railway and the Sedley Road. This extension of power and crossing is for the purpose of supplying electrical current to a planned Aircraft Warning Observation Tower on the William M. Camp farm, a short distance from where the Sedley Road intersects with Clay Street Extended, the Courtland Highway, next to the residence of James L. Camp, Jr. The location for the “lookout” tower was selected due to its elevation, said to be the highest in the Franklin area.

Working with Mr. Vaughan is a staff composed of John C. Parker, Assistant; Franklin Edwards, Captain of Southampton County VPF Company No. 23; T. J. Crooks, Town Manager; Mayor R. H. Powell Jr.; and Hugh D. Camp, General Manager of Chesapeake Camp Corporation. An advisory council consists of Town Commissioners Sol W. Rawls Sr.; Dr. Burton J. Ray; and George H. Parker.

Heading up the Aircraft Warning Service is George H. Parker Jr., Chief Observer and Frank R. Day, Communications Chief. They are responsible for keeping 24-hour per day watches to advise of the presence of airplanes, and to keep telephone service in good working order. Direct telephone lines from Franklin to Norfolk Civil Defense Operations are already in place.

C.H. Dougherty, Chief of the Franklin Fire Department, will also function as Chief of the Auxiliary Fire Department, rescue squad and utilities repair squad.

Police Chief L.B. Pratt will also act as Chief of an Auxiliary Police and Bomb Squad. His duties are to control traffic, patrol streets, guard special defense points, prevent looting, enforce blackouts, and remove duds and time bombs.

R.H. Allen, Leggett’s Department Store Manager, Warden Division Chief, will have oversight over the Air Raid Warden Service.

Dr. M.B. Raiford, Raiford Hospital Administrator, is the Emergency Medical Division Chief.

Virgil L. Derby and M. D. English are heading up the Public Works Emergency Division.

J. B. (“Cotton”) Johnson and R.A. Pretlow Jr. will be in charge of blackouts and warnings to the general public.

Southampton County Schools Superintendent F.F. Jenkins and Franklin High School Principal B.T. Watkins are heading up the Schools Division and will be responsible for the safety of school children.

W.J.M. Holland Jr. is the Ambulance Division Chief and has responsibility for transporting wounded persons.


Dec. 7, 2016

Here it is, 75 years later.  here aren’t too many people left that were directly involved in that war. But, there are many people that have recollections. A lot of people can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Merritt Raiford, of Courtland, was 13 years old at the time, living in Burdette. The family had just returned from Church. On their way home, the Raiford family notice that cars were driving real slow. When they got home, Merritt’s father turned on the radio.

“We then realized why people were driving slow; They were listening to the news on their car radios. Gabriel Heater of WRVA in Richmond was broadcasting the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese,” Raiford said.

In just a few days, Raiford’s two brothers, Edmond and Franklin (“Monk”) both enlisted in the U.S. Army; and sister Lucille joined the WAC (Women’s Army Corp, at that time, U.S. Army for women).

Hursell Fowler, of Franklin, who was 16 years at the time and living on a farm, about three miles outside of Zebulon, North Carolina, remembers hearing it on the radio soon after they returned from Church. The next day, they read about it in the Raleigh newspaper.

“My two brothers, Linwood and Noel, both enlisted in the U. S. Army right soon afterwards,” Fowler said.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net