Grandpa’s Legendary Story

For all of us familiar with U.S. History and our family history, today’s thoughts should be expected. This is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. We all know about Grandpa’s repeated story that he learned of the attack six months earlier when he was passing through Japan on his way home after living in Russia for ten years.

He traveled across the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway and then took a Japanese steamer from Vladivostok across the Sea of Japan. When he reached Japan, he boarded a train to Tokyo, and then a bus to Yokohama.

The bus driver got lost, so Grandpa asked to be dropped off at a police station for directions. The legendary story is that when one of the officers at the station learned Grandpa was an American, he warned Grandpa to leave Japan as quickly as possible because the Japanese were going to “boom boom” the United States.

After Grandpa’s ship docked in Honolulu, he went ashore to purchase some newspapers and was approached by a United States Intelligence officer named Sullivan, who was inquiring about troop movements Grandpa may have seen while on the Trans-Siberian. Naturally, Grandpa was anxious to pass on his news, but he never knew if he was taken seriously by Mr. Sullivan.

On the day of the attack, Grandpa had been in the army for one month. He was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, enrolled in a sixteen week medical training course. The rest of his family—his parents and three sisters—were at a train station in Yaroslavl, which was about 400 miles southeast of the city where they were all living when Grandpa left. The family evacuated in mid-August when their city was attacked by the Germans. The traveled on foot until they were finally able to reach a train.  My grandparents were sixty-three and fifty-five at this time, and my Aunt Nancy was pregnant. At the onset of the journey they encountered heavy rains which made travel on the roads impossible, and then winter set in, with temperatures as low as -40 degrees. I cannot imagine the hardships they endured!

Grandpa’s family had not been in contact with him since he left, so they did not know he had been drafted or if he had even arrived back in New Jersey. How different from our world of instant communication where we become impatient when we cannot reach someone quickly enough!

The question today is whether Grandpa’s story was true. I did a lot of research and learned that reports surface each year on this anniversary stating that President Roosevelt, like Grandpa, was not surprised by the attack. One of the researchers at the National Archives told me he believed the story, telling me that many of the Japanese were aware of the plans. So what do you all think?

Grandpa and Friend on Ship Heading to US from Japan- 1941
Grandpa and Friend on Ship Heading to US from Japan- 1941



2 thoughts on “Grandpa’s Legendary Story

  1. It is always interesting to read first-hand accounts. But, if you research further, FDR wanted to join in the war and carefully maneuvered Japan into making the strike as Hitler wasn’t about to hit the US. He had promised Churchill and he had stretched the Lend Lease program way past what Congress knew about ….


  2. I did read that. After years of questioning my father’s story, I wondered if there was validity and then stumbled upon those stories. I guess it is the hidden secret you never hear about in school.


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