Mistaken Identity, Part 2

I call the second case of mistaken geographic identity the "Invasion of a Maryland Beach Town!"

This instance of mistaken geographic identity happened long before my birth, and all the way back in 1941. It’s become a part of Howder family legend that will undoubtedly be passed along to our progeny for generations to come. Some families bestow royal titles upon their descendants. Others accumulate great fortunes that transcend to lucky heirs. Still others pass along their famous names, invoking memories of ancestors who displayed great courage, resourcefulness or intelligence.

There isn’t a Duke of Howder, a Howder family fortune or a Howder Einstein. No, the family has none of those. We are ordinary people who celebrate ordinary things. We share stories like the time grandmother prepared to flee the city with three young children in tow, a tale she had to endure repeated at every family gathering for more than a half-century afterwards.

It may help to understand that the date in question was December 7, 1941, and the city was Washington, DC. Perhaps she can be forgiven for her lack of geographic understanding. People were in a panic. How many people on that day stopped to ponder the geographic placement of Pearl Harbor, assuming they’d ever heard of it, when radios broke the news of a Japanese surprise attack?

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It was the date which will live in infamy in the immortal words of President Roosevelt as he called for war, an event seared forever into the psyche of those who lived through it, much like September 11, 2001, has been seared into mine.

My father’s mother did not receive as much of an education as many people today because of her family situation and her gender. She was one of several American-born children of recent Irish immigrants who occupied a small row house in a working-class section of Capitol Hill. In adulthood she raised a family as a single mother through the depths of the Great Depression, as an entry-level clerk in a nondescript government office. She faced a lot of adversity in her early life while sacrificing her personal opportunities to improve the lot of her children.

Who could blame her for not knowing about Pearl Harbor and transcending what she thought she heard on the radio into a more familiar place: Herald Harbor.

What? You’ve never heard of Herald Harbor?

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Herald Harbor is a small riverside community located just outside of Annapolis, Maryland. It’s barely 30 miles from the United States capitol. Poor grandmother thought that the Japanese had landed on the western shore of the Chesapeake and were preparing to invade Washington, DC. She had seen the newsreels of European refugees fleeing from the German blitzkrieg and she knew exactly what to do. Grandmother gathered everything that she and her children could carry on their backs and prepared to flee the city on foot towards the safety of nearby Virginia.

Her neighbors stopped her at the doorway of their apartment building. They explained that the attack took place at Pearl Harbor, a place in Hawaii several thousand miles away. She didn’t believe them because she’d just heard with her own ears that the Japanese were attacking Maryland. How could the Japanese navy circle South America (or go through the Panama Canal), hug a long section of the eastern United States, and make it all the way up the Chesapeake Bay totally undetected, they reasoned, and why would they attack an anonymous beach town?

It took a lot of cajoling, but against her better judgment the evacuation of Washington drew to an close. She and her children trotted back upstairs with their bundles and packs.

Articles in this string:

Mistaken Identity, Part 1: Call the Inspectors
Mistaken Identity, Part 2: Invasion of a Maryland Beach Town
Mistaken Identity, Part 3: Baltimore, DC

One Reply to “Mistaken Identity, Part 2”

  1. My mother, who was a child at the time of Pearl Harbor, has mentioned that many people were puzzled at first by the reports of the attack because they had no idea where Hawaii was located or even that it was part of the United States. Hawaii wasn’t a state in 1941 and very few tourists ever went there. It would be something like if today there were an attack on Guam or Saipan.

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