Sonoma County was at war, and it came as quite a surprise. Not the part about fighting between the U.S. and Japan; anyone who made a passing glance at a newspaper front page in early December 1941 knew the odds of war were almost certain. What shocked us here was to suddenly discover we were probably on the front lines. War was something that happens far away in another country - never in the street in front of your home.

In the first hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor our Sonoma County nerves were frayed. Was Japan about to likewise target the West Coast? Civil defense plans were hurried into action with calming remarks from authorities that the situation was in hand. Less reassuring was discovering their top priority concerned getting ready for mass casualties. (For more on Dec. 7 1941 see the previous article, "EYEWITNESS TO INFAMY.")

The next day (December 8) saw frantic mobilization. Hundreds volunteered to guard public utilities from sabotage, direct traffic during an emergency or serve on rescue squads, while 96 men were sworn in as members of the armed Home Guard. Volunteer firemen were ordered to stay on 24 hour alert. In Santa Rosa it was a day like we had never seen before or since: Downtown must have resembled a hive of bees, with all those men rushing in and out of the courthouse, housewives with shopping lists to prepare for wartime food shortages and everyone on the street sharing their worries and any news about relatives/friends in Hawaii.

And then come nightfall, the Army made everything worse.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

The story of Santa Rosa during the opening days of WWII begins with Roy Vitousek: The first American eyewitness to the start of the war. He was from Santa Rosa and Healdsburg - just more proof a local Believe-it-or-Not! footnote will turn up for nearly any chapter of our nation's history. Sonoma County: Come for the wine and the redwoods, stick around for our mile-high stack of intriguing backstories.

It was not long after sunrise when Roy took to the air in his private plane. Taking a quick spin was a Sunday morning ritual for him and his teenage son; there was no reason to believe December 7, 1941 would be any different than all the times before.

After flying for about an hour they headed back to their home base, the John Rodgers Airport (now the Kalaeloa Airport) a few miles southwest of Pearl Harbor. Another small plane was also preparing to land, so they looped around to make another approach. Roy's son, 17 year-old Martin described what happened next:
We zoomed up again and circled around the entrance to Pearl Harbor before making another landing attempt. Suddenly we were in the thick of it. The enemy pilots machine-gunned our plane and I could see their heads in the cockpit and the Rising Sun insignia on their wings very plainly. I guess you'll have to say I was scared and mad as hell.

Their little high-wing Aeronca was now smack in the middle of the initial assault wave on Pearl Harbor. He saw two enemy planes shot down above them and thought another hit the water, although Martin wasn't sure if it wasn't dive bombing. "All in all, we were in the air for ten minutes throughout the first attack before we were able to land."

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

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