Seventy years ago today, on what started off as just another peaceful Sunday morning, news of an unimaginable event was relayed across America through a series of “special bulletin” radio broadcasts.
The Empire of Japan had carried out a surprise military attack on Pearl Harbor - a strategic U.S. naval base in Hawaii. The first reports indicated mass casualties and injuries, major destruction to U.S. battleships and aircraft, numerous buildings ablaze and a state of chaos in and around Pearl Harbor. War was imminent.
It was Dec. 7, 1941 - a date president Franklin Roosevelt so accurately predicted would “live in infamy.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor was carried out by more than 350 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes. The assault damaged eight U.S. Navy battleships - sinking four of them. Three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and one minelayer were also struck, yet the worst of the news had nothing to do with the loss of military arsenal. The worst news was the massive loss of American lives, initially estimated to be in the hundreds.
The attack shocked and angered our nation, but the news on that fateful Sunday was especially devastating to Americans who feared the worst for loved ones serving in our nation’s military.
Among the American servicemen stationed in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, was U.S. Navy Yeoman Third Class Robert Woods Jackson of Glenwood, Iowa. The 1939 Glenwood High School graduate was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, serving as the ship’s librarian and supervisor of telephone service.
As the history books tell us, the U.S.S. Arizona was among the ships to sustain the most significant damage in the onslaught.
The U.S.S. Arizona sank in nine minutes. Seventy years later, the ship’s wreckage still sits at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, beneath a memorial built in honor of the 1,177 men who went down with the ship.
On Sunday, Dec. 21, 1941, exactly two weeks after the attack and the very day Robert Jackson would have celebrated his 20th birthday, Dean Jackson of Glenwood was notified through a telegram from the Navy Department that his son “is missing following action in the performance of his duty and in service to his country.” Dean Jackson was asked in the telegram not to divulge the name of the ship his son was stationed on, but it was already widely known in his hometown that Robert was aboard the Arizona.
On Jan. 28, 1942, Dean Jackson received a second telegram from the Navy Department.
“After exhaustive search, it has been found impossible to locate your son, Robert Woods Jackson, Yeoman Third Class, U.S. Navy, and he has therefore been officially declared to have lost his life in the service to his country as of December 7th, 1941.”
Robert Jackson was Mills County’s first casualty of World War II. He was among 2,459 Americans known to have died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Another 1,282 were injured.
Emerson resident Roger Jackson was only 13 years old when his cousin Robert’s ship was attacked, but he still remembers the day vividly.
“We were all listening to the radio for the news on Pearl Harbor,” Roger said last week. “He (Robert) was the first one from Mills County to go down. I remember they had a memorial service for him later on. I believe it was at the Methodist Church. There was quite a turnout.”
Shortly after his son’s death, Dean Jackson gave the following statement to The Opinion-Tribune.
“This is a dark day for me, but I like what Secretary Knox said to the young son of the man in command of the ship, ‘Your father has not lost his life, he gave it,’” Dean Jackson said. “I would like to think that Robert’s life had not been lost. I don’t believe that the spirit of the American people is such that these who gave their lives in this attack will have given them for a lost cause.”
The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was formally dedicated in 1962. The names of all 1,177 men that perished with the ship, including Robert Woods Jackson, are listed on the memorial.
Prior to his own death, Dean Jackson had the opportunity to visit the memorial that serves as a lasting tribute to his son and the men who gave their lives in service to their country on Dec. 7, 1941.