Witnessing History

ECHO underway, posted Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Readers of the morning edition of The Hartford Courant on December 8, 1941, had not yet heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s war speech, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. But they certainly knew what had happened the day before: the “day that will live in infamy,” the day the forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the United States’ naval forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

For many Connecticuters, that Sunday was both peaceful and restive. World War II was at one and the same time distant and near. The state’s newspapers daily carried the news of men undergoing physical examinations for military service, of the U.S. Army’s need for supplies, and of the gearing up of military production. But no declaration of war had yet been made. On that Monday morning, the world had changed. Apprehension gave way to national commitment. Yet fear for loved ones’ safety would only increase over the days and weeks and years to follow. The Hartford Courant reported on the Hartford residents who were anxious about their family members and friends in China, the Philippines, and Hawaii.

The parents of Private First Class Thomas J. Pillion had called the War Department in Washington on that fateful Sunday. No casualty list was yet to be had. Pillion had joined up on January 29, 1941, and was stationed at Hickam Field as a member of the 234th Signal Company, United States Army Signal Corps. He had attended the Wilson Street School and the Hartford Public High School, and worked at the Walgren Tree Expert Company of West Hartford before his enlistment.

We may only imagine his parents’ relief when they heard the news of their son’s survival. The Courant didn’t note that occasion. And we know their son’s heroism in his own words as he described what happened on December 7, 1941:

When the firing subsided, we surfaced and spent the rest of the night outside the building listening to intermittent gun fire; everyone seemed to be trigger-happy. Reports were coming over the teletype and radios that the Japanese were landing all over Oahu and that paratroopers were dropped at Hickam. The idea of paratroopers coming kept us all in a state of anxiety for the rest of the night. We later found out that the planes were Navy planes from the Enterprise and that some were shot down.

As I look back to the events of that day, I know that I didn’t perform any heroics; however, every one of the 324th Signal Company performed the duties for which they were trained without question, and I am proud to have been a part of that organization. (From Leatrice R. Arakaki and John R. Kuborn, 7 December 1941: The Air Force Story, 2005)

Thomas J. Pillion died, in Connecticut, on March 2, 1991.