Remembering the day of infamy

Julie Sherwood

Dec. 7, 1941, started out like any other Sunday, recalled Barbara Freeman, who was at her childhood home in Gorham’s Crystal Beach the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

War with Hitler’s rampaging armies, let alone the Japanese, seemed only a vague possibility to many Americans that day. To Freeman, then an 11-year-old spending a typical Sunday with her family, war itself was a strange concept.

“It didn’t mean much to me,” said Freeman, 77, who doesn’t remember exactly what she was doing when news of the attack came over the cathedral-style, wood-grain AM radio 66 years ago today.

Freeman said she does remember her mother cried.

Her dad, a railroad engineer, and her mom, a grocery-store manager, “were very worried,” said Freeman. She had several cousins serving in the military at the time, she said. “We were a very close family.”

As with most Americans, the attack on Pearl Harbor, which catapulted the United States into World War II, changed the lives of Barbara Freeman’s family forever.

It seemed almost immediately that her parents both went to work in factories for the war effort, she said. She still had her maiden name, English; it was in 1946 that she married her childhood sweetheart, Harold Freeman. All of her cousins survived the war, including one from Pennsylvania who was a fighter pilot and “shot down two German planes,” she said.

But her husband, who had been an Army sergeant, never recovered from the mental anguish of the war, she said. He died at age 33, and Barbara raised their four children on her own. She never remarried.

Ruth Barbour, 82, was a teenager in 1941, working as a messenger for Eastman Kodak Co. and living with her parents and seven siblings. On the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she was at her home in Rochester and feeling particularly happy, she recalled.

“My uncle had bought me a pair of ice skates,” she said.

And she couldn’t wait to go outside and try them. But she remembers the family did little the rest of the day other than listen to the radio.

“It ended up a very quiet day,” she said. “We were thinking about all those people, on all those ships.”

The bombing killed more than 2,400 people and damaged 18 American ships.

A few years later, Ruth married Harold Barbour, who had been a Navy paramedic on one of those ships.

Gary Roskey, 67, was just a baby when the Japanese attacked. Both his fathers — the biological father he never met and the stepfather who raised him — fought in the war, he said. They both returned. An only child, Roskey said he grew up with other kids whose fathers, uncles, and other loved ones were not so lucky.

“It was rough, many people never made it back,” he said.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Bruce Deal, 77, was an 11-year-old boy with chores to do on his family's farm in Junius, Seneca County. He remembers the news came as a shock and raised a lot of questions and anxiety.

“It was a sad moment.”

Contact Julie Sherwood at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at