December 7, 1941

by Vic Hansen

It was an overcast day in Morro Bay on December 7. It was warm as sometimes happens in December. The clouds were low--perhaps about eight or nine hundred feet. We had heard about the Japanese attack earlier and some other eleven-year-old boys and I were walking along South Main Street. I don't think that the street was paved at that time. We were south of Olive street when we heard an airplane. We couldn't see the plane because of the cloud cover, but of course we knew it was Japanese. We dove for cover along a bank which still remains as protection if the need ever arises. There were no bombs or anything, and I'm not sure whether we were relieved or disappointed.

Camp San Luis was nearby and starting to enlarge. It was to be the training area for the Army's 40th Division. In early 1940 some training had already started. Base personnel were called to return to the facility. When my friends and I proceeded to McKennon's Union station at Fifth and Main where chaos reigned. Our Constable George Anderson was directing traffic--something extraordinary for our little community. Mr. Anderson also owned the five and dime store we were so fond of at that time. I should mention that around the fourth of July the dime store had the greatest selection of fireworks imaginable--from "lady fingers" (tiny firecrackers) to rockets. They also had Tootsie Rolls and little metal cars made in where else?--Japan. The dime store was just east of the post office which was at the corner of Fifth and D. (Morro Bay Boulevard and Monterey) The rest of the day is a blur, but that night wasn't. There was an armed guard patrolling the sidewalk in front of the post office. This was the first ominous sign that perhaps jolted us into the realization that this war could have serious consequences for us.

The next day was school as usual and as usual I had a marble playing contest with my friend George Imokawa. I knew that he was as taken aback as I about the event that would change all our lives (especially his), but as best I can remember it wasn't mentioned. About a month later he didn't return to our school. I never saw him again and have no idea about his later life. National Archive photos of Japanese relocation and Manzanar 2007

Eventually fortifications were in place near Morro Beach Inn which now stood empty. They had artillery emplacements under netting and behind sandbag enclosures. Initally telephone poles were placed along the sandunes in the attempt to simulate large cannons. As the war continued, the disintegration of the Inn continued until only a few structures remained. At this time there were no homes on the west side of Highway 1. (See Morro Beach Inn.) Just sixteen days later war came right to our shores with the submarine attack and sinking of the merchant vessel, the SS Montebello just off of Cambria. The first ship attacked was the Richfield tanker Doheny at about 4 AM. The torpedo hit the rocks somewhere in the Cayucos area. The Doheny made it safely into Estero Bay. (See Submarine Attack--Homepage.)

Neon was new then and was an instant hit with all businesses. The greatest neon event to happen in Morro Bay was the marquee at the Bay Theater. We were all very proud of our theater and especially the blinking gaudy lights that surrounded the billing. The theater was built by a strange little man that had lenses in his glasses not unlike the ends of coke bottles. He came to Morro Bay from Los Angeles and crowds went to his little theater where we played Keeno between double features. Prizes were awarded to the winners, perfume, his own manufactured brand called House of Page--London and Los Angeles and dishes. Admission was ten cents for children and twenty-five cents for adults. Later owners were Mr. and Mrs. Harry Maupin. Even later was Harold and Meldine Nash. Some of the local beauties that worked at the theater were, Adele Silva, Jean Scott, Shirley Scott and Mary Ann McCutcheon. Although we loved going there, I'll admit that if Jennings Tent Show or Russell Brothers circus came to town, we deserted the theater to see these attractions. (note: Jennings Tent Show was started in the early 1900's by Tom and Fred Jennings of Newton County, Missouri. This attraction is still remembered fondly by many in small towns throughout the West)

Soon blackout curtains became fashionable and wardens patrolled to make sure all lights were out. Mr. Lee Osborne was the warden in our neighborhood. You couldn't use auto headlights. The lights of downtown and the giant neon of the Bay Theater remained off as we entered the darkness of the big one, WWII.