The front page of the Bangor Daily News on Dec. 8, 1941, carried one story, alerting Maine readers that on the previous day, “Japanese planes bombed Manila, Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and Hickam Field, Hawaii, without warning.”
Then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called Dec. 7 of that year “a date which will live in infamy,” when more than 2,400 American service personnel and local civilians were killed, and the United States was finally drawn into World War II after two years largely on the sidelines of the conflict.
The late Robert Coles of Machias, who died last month at the age of 93, was a Navy veteran who was among the first to see the Japanese planes approaching for the attack.
“They had a big red circle on them,” he recalled in a 2016 interview with the BDN. “I didn’t know what I was looking at.
“And then I noticed stuff falling out of the plane, like sand out of a bucket, and bangers blowing up on Ford Island. Here’s where it gets even weirder. I turn and I run up to the port side to [one of the two] .50-caliber machine guns,” Coles continued. “I took the dog wrench off the bulkhead, broke the padlock on the ammo boxes and I loaded No. 2 .50-caliber machine gun all by myself, and I swear before almighty God that I shot and hit the first two torpedo planes that went by the [destroyer USS] Bagley.”
Thomaston native Donald Bergren was a private first class in the Army stationed in Hawaii on that fateful date. He told WGME, CBS 13, in a 2016 interview he was asleep in his barracks when the explosions started and that “we thought it was thunderstorms at first.”
“When you came down from Schofield Barracks you could see Pearl Harbor,” Bergren recalled. “It was all smoking, boats were burning. The [USS] Arizona was burning.”
The Associated Press story published in the Bangor Daily News the following day noted that the Pearl Harbor attack would just be the beginning of the war for American service personnel like Coles and Bergren, reading: “An electrified nation immediately united for a terrific struggle ahead.”
The U.S. went on to spend the modern equivalent of nearly $5 trillion on the war effort, for which more than 400,000 American military members gave their lives. World War II was the deadliest conflict in history, with more than 60 million people killed among all involved countries.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.