Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into World War II. The war, which killed more than 62 million people,
Two legislators, Assemblymen John B. Cooke and G. Delbert Morris, were at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Cooke, a sitting legislator, had been called to active duty after the 1941 Regular Session ended and had to request permission from the Assembly to miss the special session called in the days after the attack.
Within a month of the attack, Governor Culbert Olson had issued a number of proclamations including ordering California authorities to assist in the registration, evacuation and internment of “Enemy Aliens” in the coastal areas of California (which had been designated a combat zone by the U.S. military).
Of the thousands of Japanese relocated to internment camps during the war were eight who would later become legislators in California; Nao Takasugi (Gila River), Mike Honda (Granada), Norm Mineta (Heart Mountain), Paul T. Bannai (Lone Pine), Doris Matsui (Poston), George Nakano, Alan Nakanishi, Robert Matsui (all three at Tulelake).
Although Pearl Harbor was the last major engagement fought on U.S. soil, the war continued overseas for another three and a half years. Sixteen million Americans served in the war, including over 200 men who later served in the California legislature;
- Robert W. Crown and Laughlin Waters were an infantry officers who lead soldiers in France
- John C. Begovich fought in several campaigns; North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France
- Gil Ferguson fought in the Pacific, including at Tarawa
- Two others, Burt Talcott and George G. Crawford, lived as POWs for more than a year after their bombers were shot down on runs over Germany
The contributions made by the WWII generation continue to define much of contemporary politics in California. In fact, it was less than a decade ago when the last WWII veteran, Assemblyman Lou Papan, served in the legislature (retiring in 2002).