Anoka County history: Remembering Pearl Harbor in 1941

In the archives of the Anoka County History Center is an interview with Eleanor Page in which she shares her experience of being in Hawaii with her Army husband during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Eleanor (nee Affeldt) Page was born Dec. 10, 1917 to her minister father, Christian, and mother Martha. She trained to be a schoolteacher and at 18 years old she began her career in New Germany.  \A fellow teacher told her a gentleman wanted to meet her. The gentleman, Dr. Robert Page, was a dentist who practiced in New Germany on Thursdays and Fridays. Page’s father, also a dentist, encouraged his son to expand his practice to rural areas for more experience. At the time, Page did not own a car and traveled by streetcar and train to New Germany. When Eleanor was introduced to him, her statement was “he’s a city slicker from Minneapolis.” Eleanor celebrated her 19th birthday with a roller skating party. Robert attended even though, according to an oral interview Eleanor did with the Anoka County Historical Society, “he wasn’t invited.” She continued,“So, I figured he was serious.  We dated for about three years and I married him at 22”.

With a war looming, Robert joined the Army. He was allowed to choose a place to transfer to, so Bob chose Hawaii over the Philippines.  “Those troops from the Minnesota National guard that went to the Philippines never came back,” Eleanor said, referring to the Bataan Death March of 1942.  “We drove to New York, left on a ship after Thanksgiving, went through the Panama Canal and up to San Francisco. This was the farthest I’ve been away from home.  At that time, there were no commercial flights to Hawaii, so we travelled by ship to Hawaii.

“My husband had a dental office at Wheeler Field, where we were stationed. All of our neighbors were pilots. Our daughter Nancy was born 18 November 1941. One Sunday morning, I was up early and fed the baby, when I heard an awful crash. I stepped outside and saw an airplane banking over the house. The emblem on the plane was Japanese. My husband rushed to the car, but it had a flat tire from bullets. They hit Wheeler Field before Pearl Harbor, likely because of the bombers and fighter planes. We saw the smoke and fire in the distance and we knew something awful was happening.  All personnel began rushing to assist. A neighbor, who was a nurse, brought her four-month-old baby to me to watch.One of the bombs had hit the dining hall where soldiers and pilots were sitting down to breakfast.  Another neighbor, a pilot went to a different air field where he knew other planes were kept.  He did shoot down at least one Japanese plane.

“We were instructed to blacken all the windows, not knowing if that would attract planes or bombs. We were told that cruise ships had been gutted and 10,000 men were on their way, thinking we would be invaded.  On Christmas Eve, the civilians were told to pack and be ready to leave the next morning. It was a sad sight, seeing so many families being separated. We drove a car a few miles, but ended up with a flat tire because of the shrapnel in the road and we hitched a ride in the back of an Army truck. I don’t know how I managed to carry the baby and luggage to the ferry. We were sent back to the mainland escorted by two destroyers.

“I arrived in Rochester on January 2 or 3. It was 27 below and I had no shoes for the baby. I wrote letters almost daily to my husband. I was afraid [when] I didn’t hear from him for longer than three or four days. Bob stayed in Hawaii for nearly two years. One day, I heard we had dropped the atomic bomb and thought maybe this will finally be over. Within three weeks, my husband was discharged from the Army.”

After Robert returned home, the Pages came to Anoka, purchasing the practice of Dr. Larsen. He retired in 1986 and died in 1998. Eleanor, who still lives in the Anoka area, was interviewed by the Anoka County Historical Society in 2009.

To listen to this enthralling interview, please stop in to the History Center. They have many oral interviews from Anoka County residents.

Editor’s note: Leslie Plummer is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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