Dakota Datebook

December 7 in North Dakota

Monday, December 7, 2009

 

In December of 1941 America was preparing for war. It was evident to most people that war was inevitable and that retaining America’s neutrality status was more of a wish than a reality. The draft had been revitalized and North Dakota’s National Guard was training in Camp Claiborne, Louisiana as part of the federalization of the National Guard units across the nation.

Across North Dakota, the lean, Dirty Thirties had given way to a pre-war prosperity. The drought-stricken plains of the Dust Bowl years were showing invigorated signs of life with 1941 being one of the wettest on record and prices for agricultural products were rising.

Even with the war clouds looming in Europe and Asia, the war seemed distant to most North Dakotans, but on this date in 1941, the brutality of war came crashing down upon them with news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

Within hours of the news, the war machine, which had been put to bed for two decades, sprang back to life. Using a recently revised Military Code, the governor was authorized to raise a military force when 50% of the National Guard was under federal service. Within twelve hours new guard units were organized. Local militia groups, manned mostly by the local American Legion units, were in place guarding railroad and automotive bridges against sabotage. Power plants and waterworks also came under guard as police departments were quickly expanded. North Hill in Minot was the scene of activity as volunteers began building the first air raid observation post made of sandbags. The selective service quota for January was moved up to December and a Coast Guard Recruitment center, the only one in the state, opened in Bismarck.

The Grand Café and U.S. Café in Minot were closed as well as a beauty shop in Grand Forks, all of which were owned by Japanese nationals. Businesses in Carrington and other places would also be closed and the owners interned. Individuals with German and Japanese origins came under close scrutiny. All ham radio stations went off the air under federal regulations prohibiting amateur broadcasts.

As the news trickled in from the Pacific, there was the stunning realization that many men and women from North Dakota were already involved in combat. Over the next few weeks the casualty list of North Dakota missing and killed in action was mounting with news from Pearl Harbor, Hickman Field, the Philippines, Wake Island and the Chinese mainland. From thousands of miles away, the ugly reality of a global conflict was coming home to North Dakota. America was at war.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:
The Bismarck Tribune December 8, 1941
The Casselton Reporter January 16, 1942

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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