By HARLAN R. KNUDSON
North Kitsap High School Class of 1951
I am the youngest of George and Ida Knudson’s four kids. On Dec. 7, 1941 my sister, Aubyn Ann, was 21. Big brother Elwyn was 18. Brother Ernie 11. Me, I was 8 years old.
Dad was the owner of Knudson Motors on the main street in downtown Poulsbo. Mom was the garage’s bookkeeper and Dad’s life partner. We lived on the edge of Liberty Bay, a stone’s throw down the beach from the codfish plant.
As a third-grader at Poulsbo Elementary, I was not a stranger to the fact that parts of the world were at war. Japan was at war with China. Nazi Germany had invaded Poland. These were major stories in the photo news magazines Life and Look. Film about battles being fought and Germany’s bombing of London were graphically shown in newsreels that preceded our Saturday afternoon cowboy movies at Poulsbo’s Almo Theater.
World War II came into our home, our community and our country on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941: I was lying on the front-room rug reading the Sunday comics. Mom and Dad were listening to the radio. The radio program was interrupted and a solemn voice said: “We interrupt this broadcast to report the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.”
My Dad sort of gasped and said, “Oh, no.” Mom, sitting on the couch, began to cry. Elwyn had graduated from North Kitsap High School in June. Aubyn Ann was in nurse’s training. Mom, born in 1898, learned during World War I what the young faced when our nation goes to war.
My reaction was, “Where the heck is Pearl Harbor?” By the end of 1945, my knowledge of the geography of Europe, Africa and the far Pacific would be ingrained within me and my growing-up pals forever.
Elwyn was drafted in June 1942. Aubyn Ann joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1944.
The “sweetness” of this time in my life was that the country was in an economic depression but none of us kids knew that we were poor. You can’t know Poulsbo in 1941 unless you know the people who lived there. Many of them were the sons and daughters of the immigrants who homesteaded and founded North Kitsap’s communities. Others, like my second-generation Norwegian and English parents, arrived in the middle of the Great Depression. They suffered through hard times. They were innovators and survivors. They wanted to be part of this great country.
In 1941, Poulsbo, as well as all the neighboring communities in North Kitsap County, were great places to be a kid. Not much pocket money, and hand-me-down clothes, but lots of family love, community involvement and many things to do. During the summer, we were turned loose after breakfast and allowed to go as far as our bikes or rowboat would take us. Just be home by supper. As kids, Poulsbo merchants and neighbors might not know your name, but they knew who you belonged to. World War II changed everything for our families and our friend’s families. We kids went on being kids, but we were keenly aware that our world had changed forever.
Before Elwyn departed for the Army, he came into my room and asked me for my school picture. He told me he needed a photo of his little brother to take with him when he was in the Army.
I will never forget coming home on a summer afternoon in 1942. The door to Mom and Dad’s bedroom was open. Mom was on her knees with her elbows on the bed. She was crying. I am sure she had been praying. Lying on the bed were Elwyn’s civilian clothes. Sent home after he was inducted into the Army.