John Shephard was born October 3, 1932. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, his father, a World War I veteran, re-enlisted in the military. During the war John worked three jobs, including at an airfield, to save money to buy stamps to trade for war bonds. He devoted his free time to following the war through the newspaper and the radio. John has retained a lifelong interest in World War II.
John speaks about first hearing of Pearl Harbor, his father’s enlistment in the Army, his own commitment to the war effort, the effect of the war on his school, segregation, and his many friends that participated in the war.
Learning of Pearl Harbor
I remember December 7th, 1941. I was in the Edison Theater, which is no longer a theater, but an office building downtown. I was watching a movie. My mother came in. My brother and I were together watching a movie about one of the fighters—it was about his life. And she said, “You’ve gotta come right now.” And we didn’t know what it was about. We went to my grandmother’s apartment and began listening to the radio. They announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that the United States was going to war. So that’s how I was first introduced to the war.
About two months later, my father, who had served in World War I in the trenches—he had a lot of medals and everything—he was so distressed when they stopped the war with an armistice instead of finishing it, as we did in World War II, that he felt compelled to enlist in the war again. So, within sixty days of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted as a private in the army even though he could’ve gone in, as a lawyer, as a captain or a major. But he wanted to go back to Europe and finish the job.
Father’s Silence on Operation Tiger
My father was there. He never said one word about it from the time he came back until the day he died in 1972 because it was declared top secret. But that was probably the greatest tragedy accident in World War II.
What happened was the British and the American troops were training together, and Eisenhower felt that they should have live ammunition coming in, but not on the troops. Well, what happened was the American and British were on different radio channels and weren’t communicating with each other. So what happened is that the fire, the bombs and cannons and what have you, came in and they actually hit the troops. 946 soldiers and sailors and Marines were killed, some in the water and some on land. The only way that was discovered was the man who, many years later in the 1970s, owned a resort there at Slapton Sands Beach. One day, he went down and started using a thing that you detect metal with, and he found dog tags that they wore around their necks, he found watches, he found wallets, he found all kinds of personal things.
Local Man’s Experience at Pearl Harbor
Another man from here was at Pearl Harbor. His name was Phil Rasmussen, and he was in the Navy or the Air Force before World War II. And he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. His plane was one of nine planes that got up in the air on December 7, and he actually shot down a Japanese plane. Another plane—because the Japanese didn’t want any of the American planes up there—another Japanese plane just crashed into his plane. Didn’t even try to shoot him, just bumped into the tail section. But somehow, he got the plane down.
He lived right down the street here, about three doors down from the Edison estate until he died about eight years ago. I knew him very well. He would go to the Pearl Harbor reunions, and in later years, the Japanese began to come. And he actually met the Japanese—I have a hard time calling them “Japanese”—the Japanese flier that hit his plane, and they shook hands.