On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I was three years old. While I don’t remember that “Day of Infamy,” I do remember my seventh birthday, August 14, 1945. My sisters and I were with our mother in our old Hudson going to San Pedro to pick up my father, who was a fisherman.
Without warning, air-raid sirens in the Long Beach/Los Angeles ports blared to life. What was happening? We clicked on the radio and heard President Harry Truman’s announcement, “I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese government...of...the unconditional surrender of Japan.”
The Second World War had ended.
On November 22, 1963, I was on my way to a groundbreaking for a new building for the Los Angeles Music & Art School being built on East 3rd Street in East Los Angeles. I was to pick-up the founder of the school, Pearle Irene Odell, from the old school at 4th and Boyle and escort her to the groundbreaking. Stunning everyone was the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. It was too late to stop the groundbreaking and, amazingly, as I look back now, the ceremony went on as scheduled. Miss Odell, an octogenarian and lifelong Democrat, idolized JFK. All of us were concerned that she would be too distraught to dig the first shovel full of earth. We were wrong. She was totally focused on moving forward with her lifelong dream of building a new school for disadvantaged youth in East Los Angeles. Even in sorrow, she wanted to give hope.
A few hours later, the overwhelmingly shocking news that JFK had been killed by an assassin’s bullet stunned the world. Even now I have the feeling of grief and loss.
In an old cedar trunk I have a complete set of the Los Angeles Times dated July 16 through July 24, 1969. A nine-day history of the journey of America’s astronauts to the moon. I was living on Baltimore Street in Highland Park. In almost 3-inch tall black, bold, capital letters, the Times chronicled the historic lunar mission. The July 16 launch carried the headline “LAST HUNDRED FT. ACID TEST FOR APOLLO.” July 17th’s “ALL’S WELL ALOFT’” was followed on the 18th and 19th by “HALFWAY TO MOON” and “LUNAR LANDER OK.” The July 20 Sunday edition, the actual landing date, was muted as far as bold headlines were concerned. But, the July 21 edition blared “WALK ON MOON,” with the July 22 headline heralding “HEADING HOME.” On the 23rd The Times’ headlined “NIXON WORLD TRIP.” And, on the 24th, the moon walk was history as the Times headline read, “SPLASHDOWN DAY.”
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Neil Armstrong at 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was eating breakfast at my home in Eagle Rock, reading the newspaper and watching NBC’s “Today” show. Katie Couric began talking about some type of calamity involving an airplane flying into one of the World Trade Center Towers. My God, what’s happened? No one really knew. I was transfixed. Then, suddenly, about 20 minutes later, another plane enters the screen and crashes into the other Tower. Pandemonium! And then later, the Towers fall to earth. America is shattered to the core. What’s happened asks a stunned nation? In Washington DC, America’s Congressmembers join arms and sing “God Bless America” on the Capital steps. We all come together as never before. Flags fly from every car and house. We become one. The world, in shock, comes to our support; an outpouring of grief and solidarity as never before seen.
The 21st Century began with the attack on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City by two hijacked airplanes, the most horrific calamity for America since Pearl Harbor. Of the other two hijacked planes, one crashed into the Pentagon and the other in a field in Pennsylvania. This was a day filled with events of such transformative power that none of us are sure, even today, how this will play-out or when it will end.
And, on November 4, 2008, I hope to be at home in Eagle Rock after casting my vote to elect Barack Obama President. If he is successful, it will be a monumental victory of historic and social importance coming after an almost 400 year journey by America’s African-heritage citizens: An African-American elected President.
In this time of continuing world-wide upheaval, America will have much to be proud of. God Bless America.
Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for over 40 years. He is a former president and a current Board member of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America. He was editor of the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter and a former GLAAD National Board member. He has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
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