December 4, 1941
Just days before the Japanese attack on the United States Naval Installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 4th, 1941, the regular Thursday edition of the weekly Watauga Democrat newspaper was published in Boone. Front-page news items that day ran the usual gamut of small-town local notes of interest. One headline told the events at a recent meeting of the Chamber of Commerce; another announced that “Miss Margaret Moore, registered nurse of Asheville” had just “taken over the superintendency of the Watauga Hospital, succeeding Miss Anna Hayes, who recently resigned.” An article told of the organization of a Farm Bureau for Watauga County, and news from the local high school announced, “Ten Youths Complete Defense Training Course.” (Interestingly, a follow-up to this course, open to “[a]ny young man between the ages of 17 and 25,” was scheduled to begin “Monday night, December 8”). “The class,” it was reported, “which meets at night[,] has had instruction in arc welding, sheet metal work, pipe fitting, forging and machinery repair.” Those who had completed the course were “awarded certificates for completion of an eight-week defense training course in metal work.”
December 11, 1941
In the next edition of the Watauga Democrat, the world had dramatically changed, following the surprise attack by the Empire of Japan against the United States. The pages of Boone’s newspaper both covered the shocking news of the event, and of the nation’s subsequent entry into World War II, while also continuing to focus on other items close to the hearts, minds, and livelihoods of the people of Watauga County. In a time when radio was the swiftest mass means of news coverage, and with the time difference between the Hawaiian Islands and the East Coast of the Continental United States, many citizens of Watauga County, and throughout the nation, heard news of the Pearl Harbor attack as an interruption to their usual Sunday afternoon family radio-listening time. By the time the Watauga Democrat next edition went to press, four days had passed since the event. The Democrat‘s pages from that issue offer a curious mix of announcements of the attack and its aftermath, including a prominent but not oversized headline reading “U.S. at War with Japan,” and assorted local town news, Appalachian State Teachers College items, Christmas shopping advertising, and an enthusiastic front-page story about the booming success of the local burley tobacco market.
In the fever pitch of national zeal after the sneak Japanese attack, the shorthand epithet “Jap” found its place in numerous headlines. “COMMERCE BODY CONDEMNS JAPS FOR OUTLAWRY” was a headline containing one example, introducing a story detailing how the local merchant’s group whose routine business meeting had been featured the prior week had made a special and explicit denunciation of the mass murder by means of a special resolution. Another, “May Burn Jap Toys,” told that, “[t]he bitter resentment felt in this locality over the assault by Japan on United States territory, is strikingly reflected by a conversation between some merchants on the street Tuesday. They agreed to sort out all toys and trinkets from their stocks, labeled ‘made in Japan’ and burn them in a demonstration on the town square. Other merchants will likely be approached on the bonfire proposition before the date and hour is definitively set. One large retailer stated that his firm had quit buying Nipponese [Japanese] goods many months ago, regardless of price consideration, not waiting for a major demonstration of Japanese infamy.”
The assault had, indeed, hit powerfully and tragically close to home, with one area serviceman already reported lost: “Ashe Man Learns of Death of Son in Hawaii” introduced a news item relaying that, “Winifred Hart of Lansing, Ashe county, member of the United States coast guard was reported to have been killed in action during the Japanese raids on Pearl Harbor.” In addition, Hart’s “life-long friend, Scott Gamble, also of Lansing, had been killed at the same time.” Hart’s father, “Mr. Ira T. Hart, well known Ashe county farmer” was “in the Mountain Burley warehouses here [in Boone] selling his tobacco, when the word of his son’s death reached him.”
The specter of war had already reached into the Northwestern North Carolina mountains, and would drastically affect its people and their way of life profoundly in the coming years.