Remembering December 7, 1941

Ernest McPherson Lander Jr. was a 26-year-old history and government professor at Clemson College on December 7, 1941. He later reminisced about that day in his 1992 book From Clemson College to India in World War II by a GI Who Never Saw the Enemy:

“The time was Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941. The place was the Clemson College Hotel in Clemson, South Carolina. Three friefdr-librarynds and I had just sat down in Penn Brewster’s room to play a few hands of bridge. As the cards were being dealt, I
suggested some music. Penn obligingly turned on the radio to Sammy Kaye’s ‘Sunday Serenade,’ one of my favorite programs. A few moments later a voice broke into the program with those never-to-be-forgotten words, ‘We interrupt this program. . . .’

Clemson College Hotel

Lander, and a number of other single faculty members, lived at the Clemson College Hotel.

 We sat there stunned, shocked, stared at each other, and almost speechless. ‘Where is Pearl Harbor?’ one queried. It turned out that I was the only one of the four who knew specifically where Pearl Harbor is. In a moment we forgot the game and hurried downstairs to the hotel parlor to share information with other residents.

 Although some in the inner circle of officials in Washington expected a Japanese attack soon somewhere in the Pacific, it came as a great surprise to us ordinary citizens. For more than two years our attention had been focused on Europe, North Africa, and the Atlantic where war was raging.

School of General Science faculty, 1942 Taps

E.M. Lander (4th row, 4th from the left) and other faculty from the School of General Science, from 1942 Taps. Lander and many others would soon leave campus for the military or other work for the war effort.

For the next few days everyone on the Clemson campus talked of little else but the war. We avidly listened to the President’s war message and news reports coming from Washington. We eagerly gobbled up every scrap of information, including rumors, that we could get about events in Hawaii and the rest of the Pacific.”

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When Clemson students heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor, many gathered on Bowman Field, marching with brooms instead of rifles and yelling newly made-up cheers.  Rumors about the effect of the war on the college began almost immediately — that classes would be accelerated, seniors would be allowed to graduate early, and that the college would be closed for the duration of the war.  In reality, Clemson had been preparing for a possible war months before the United States’ official entry.  Many alumni and several staff members had already joined the armed services, including most of the Class of 1941’s 276 graduates with military commissions who had entered active duty after commencement.

clemson-cadets-c1941

Clemson cadets, c1941

Four days after Pearl Harbor, The Tiger featured staged photographs of cadets pretending to leave campus immediately to fight.  The cadets’ reactions were noted in a column titled “How Clemson Feels About the War.”  Other articles reported that both President R.F. Poole and war correspondent Ben Robertson (class of 1923) were urging students to remain calm and continue to work hard.  An editorial summarized:

The Tiger confidentially feels that Clemson students will realize that it is just as patriotic to continue their normal duties until they are called, instead of rushing to the nearest recruiting office to enlist. When the time comes, Clemson men will be called — and they will respond gladly to the defense of our nation. Clemson men will consider it a privilege to fight for the greatest nation in the world.”

Read:  The Tiger, December 11, 1941

At the time, no one could imagine that the imminent second world war of the 20th century would last more than 3 ½ years, the many ways it would change Clemson, and how correct The Tiger predictions would be.