The last letter from Kenney in our collection was dated 22 October 1941. He had run into a little trouble with the law while at Bremerton, WA, but managed to resolve them himself. The next letter he sends isn’t until January 1942. Based on his letter-writing regimen, there should have been at least two letters; one in November and one in December. So what happened?
Until I had read all the letters he wrote home, it never really dawned on me that Grandpa Kenney was with the Pacific Fleet when Pearl Harbor was attacked. No one in my family ever talked about Pearl Harbor’s effect on our family, so I just assumed he was nowhere near it. And I was right.
There were eight battleships moored at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. But the Pacific Fleet had a total of nine. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Bureau has an online article titled The Battleship That Wasn’t There: USS Colorado. After the culmination of various training exercises in the summer of 1941, the Colorado was sent to Puget Sound for overhaul. She remained in Washington until March 1942 and was tasked with protecting the San Francisco bay from further Japanese attacks. But Kenney may not have returned with her crew to the Pacific Fleet. More on that later.
According to Naval records, during November, the remainder of the fleet continues business as usual. Parts of the fleet begin assisting with escort duties out of Pearl Harbor, protecting transports and merchant vessels traversing the Pacific.
Meanwhile, in Japan, six aircraft carriers depart Hitokappu Bay in the Kurile Islands in secrecy. Their mission is to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet should negotiations between the U.S. and Japan fail to resolve diplomatic concerns (Far East Crisis), which had been an ongoing political issue between China and Japan since World War I. Japan rejects the U.S. proposals for settling the Far East Crisis, and to remove potential U.S. forces from their military activities in Asia and Europe, issues the order to attack the Pacific Fleet’s battleships.
Japan’s official declaration of war against the United States is delivered a day late (8 December in the U.S.), and seemingly simultaneously, Congress declares war on Japan. By 11 December, Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S., who responded in kind. The United States is officially participating in World War II.
Back home in Omaha, the newspapers were dominated by stories surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor. The front page headlines covered national reactions while more than half of page 10 in the Morning World-Herald (Omaha) listed local families with loved ones (both civilian and service members) who were at Pearl Harbor, all worried and wondering what their fate was. The Rhoads family was not named. Perhaps because they already knew Kenney was safe and sound at Puget Sound. The remainder of the page covered reactions and assessments from various residents of Omaha. The gallery below are snippets from page 10 of the Morning World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska) 8 December 1941.