December 7, 1941 A day that will live in infamy for one young man
December 8, 1941
Dear Ma and Pa,
I know I just sent you a letter the other day, but so much happened yesterday I had to write again. By the time you get this letter, you will have heard what happened on December 7, 1941. You heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech. What you do not know is, your son played an important role in that speech and I will not be coming back to New Market, Iowa. I have been offered a job with the President's staff here in Washington, DC.
Ma, no need to worry about me. I have a room in a dormitory for the staff. I'll be working for a trial period of two months and then I may be offered a full time position. I'll need my things sent to the address at the end of the letter.
Pa, you won't believe all the important people of Congress and the White House I've seen in the last twenty-four hours: President Roosevelt, Mr. Stephen Early, other members of his staff and some the President's cabinet members.
This is what happened and how I came to have this job. Yesterday, our group went to the Capitol Building for a tour. I took notes on everything I saw. I planned to write about it for our paper. I figured on doing a series on famous buildings in Washington if Mr. Marshall would let me. We left the Capitol Building and arrived at the White House. After half way into the tour, I noticed a lot of people running past us and whispering. Our tour leader announced, "Pearl Harbor has just been bombed by the Japanese." We were shocked of course, but the tour guide said we would finish the tour.
I could see people as they went back and forth in the halls like our bees do, in and out of flowers. I lagged behind a little and saw a sign that read PRESS with an arrow pointing down a hallway. I know you've always taught me to follow the rules, Ma, but sometimes a bit of rebellion can lead to great things. Maybe, I was inspired by the ghosts of Washington and Jefferson and a few of those who wrote the Declaration of Independence.
I slipped away and followed a man rushing down the marble walk to a door. When I found the door with PRESS ROOM lettered on the window. Inside numerous men and women typed from Dictaphones, they are like a tape recorder, or from shorthand notes. It was chaos with runners going back and forth between typists and those who picked up their finished work. My heart beat faster as I watched all the excitement. Pa, I really wanted to be a part of what was going on.
I heard voices behind me and someone pressed next to me. At the same time a man opened the door from the inside and pushed his way out into the hall.
I stepped inside the noisy room and held the door open for the men behind me to go through. One of the men grabbed my arm and growled, "Can you type, boy?"
"Yes, Sir." My voice was firm, but I was shaking.
He pulled me to a typewriter and pushed me into the chair. "You type this up. When you're through hand it to this man, "He pointed to a man in a black suit standing beside him. "And no one else. You don't speak a word to anyone or let anyone read what you are typing. Got that, Son?" He leaned his fist on the desk, his face at my level.
I nodded, grabbed paper from the box next to the machine, rolled it into the typewriter and began to type the words from the paper as he left.
Ma, thanks for making me stick to typing class when I wanted to quit. Being the second fastest typist in the class was a honor, but here I was, in Washington, DC., typing something for someone important, and they wanted it fast.
As I typed, I read the words with changes that had been made on the original sheet. I made some additional changes that sounded better. I didn't think it would matter, no one knew who I was. When I finished I'd slip out the door and be on my way. I rolled out the last page and took them all to the man, who had kept his eye on me. He took the original sheets and looked over the ones I'd typed then nodded, "Good job, son. How long have you worked here?"
My heart pounded and I swallowed hard over the lump in my throat. What would he say if I told him the truth? I coughed and answered, "Long enough to know when to keep my mouth shut."
The man laughed out loud and squeezed my shoulder. "You go back and stay there until I come and get you." He walked out and I went back to my chair. Another young man, not much older than myself, pushed a cart setting folders or papers next to the typists. He came to my desk and I waited to be ordered to leave.
"You new here?"
I just nodded.
"Here, type these up and put them in a new folder along with the originals then put them in that box." He pointed to a wooden box at the front of the room with a slot in the side to accept the folders. I nodded and began typing.
I finished the last page when the man I gave the papers to came to my desk. "Come with me." He turned to walk away without waiting for me.
"Wait, Sir, let me put these all together and send them on their way." I called out. He stopped and looked at me a moment and nodded. I assembled the stacks and put them in their designated box.
We moved down long hallways at a brisk pace. I sometimes had to skip a bit to keep up. Men passed us, others saluted the man and gave me an odd look. I wondered who he was, but he didn't speak to me. We went through a number of doors and through offices with men and women working. We stopped, he gave a knock on a door and we went in. There were groups of men talking loud, almost trying to out talk the other.
"Wait here," he ordered and walked to one group. One of the men stepped away and pointed at me. All the others stopped talking and turned to look at me. I got real nervous. I wanted to turn and run out the door as fast as I could, but I didn't know where to run so I just stood there.
"Come here, son." A voice came from the middle of the group. It was President Roosevelt. He shook my hand when my leaden feet moved toward him. "Thank you for your service. Where are you from?" He stood stiffly. His hands rested on an ornate cane.
"You live in Washington, DC, now?"
"No, Sir, just visiting."
He frowned at me, "But you're working here."
"No Sir, I was on a tour and stopped to look into the Press Room. A gentleman asked me to type something. I did what I was told, Sir"
He took a moment to digest what I said then laughed aloud. Everyone else laughed at the same time as the President and stopped when he did.
"Early, here's the kind of man we want working on our side." He spoke to the man who had ordered me to type the pages. "We're really impressed with your work. You did a good job and I like your changes. If you're willing, we've got a spot open on our staff. I like a man that 'knows when to keep his mouth shut', especially when he isn't an employee." He grinned at me.
I still had that big stone in my throat, so I just nodded.
That's how your son got a job, working for the President of the United States. When you heard the words that started his speech;
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy," spoken by President Roosevelt, the last words are mine. He had written 'world history' and I changed them.
Here I sit at my new desk, at a new typewriter, waiting to put history-making facts on paper. These are exciting times and I'm thrilled to be a part of them. I work directly for Mr. Stephen Early and Melissa LaHand, the President's secretary. The President calls her Missy. She does everything for him. Early wishes he had as much influence with the President. Already I've been sworn to keep a secret about the President from the world and I cannot tell you either. National Security, I was told.
No Ma, I haven't seen Mrs. Eleanor yet, but I will tell you everything about her when I do.
I will send you letters with all the news I'm allowed to write.
Your Son Always,