Steamboat Springs Only a few World War II veterans still live in Routt County, and although none of them were serving at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked 70 years ago Wednesday, they all said the event impacted their lives.
Because of the magnitude of the event that started World War II, residents who were alive at the time said news of the attack at the U.S. naval base on the Hawaiian island of Oahu made it to Steamboat Springs and Routt County.
Just two weeks after they were married, Lloyd and Annabeth Lockhart were driving back to Steamboat from a day of skiing on Rabbit Ears Pass when they heard the news on their car radio.
“We were surprised, very surprised and couldn’t believe it,” said Annabeth Lockhart, 89, who followed Lloyd Lockhart across the country during his training for the U.S. Army after he was drafted. “We didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was. We were quite isolated. The radio reception was poor, and there was no TV. We were quite surprised when we got home.”
Fortunately, no Routt County natives were among the 2,400 killed in the attack that also left nearly 1,200 wounded, said Jim Stanko, adjutant for American Legion Post No. 44. He said about 25 county natives lost their lives in World War II but mostly in Europe after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Stanko said only a few county natives were serving in the Pacific islands at the time of the attack but none at Pearl Harbor.
Some local World War II veterans were stationed there after the attack or visited during their service.
Modesto Compestine, who was born and raised in Milner and now lives in Steamboat, served in the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor for 18 months starting in 1945. The 84-year-old said the base had been cleaned up, but some damage still was visible.
“Not being out of Steamboat, just going around the towns here, when I got there it seemed strange,” Compestine said. “I can’t explain the feeling I had, but it wasn’t very good. It was probably fright or something like that. I don’t know how to explain it. It was kind of a funny feeling. I could kind of visualize” the bombing.
The base was different just a year before when longtime Steamboat resident Omar Campbell, a member of the Navy, visited in summer 1944.
“I saw battleships with bottoms turned up and towers sticking out of the water,” said Campbell, 86. “They hadn’t done any cleanup at that time. It was just a horrible sight; that’s all. You couldn’t help look at it and not be dumbfounded.”
Like the rest of the country, everyone was chipping in to assist the war effort. In weekly editions of the Steamboat Pilot after the attack, advertisements urged residents to buy war bonds.
“War Needs Money — YOURS!” one advertisement read. “This war for every ounce of energy, every dime and dollar we can muster for ships — and planes — and guns. Hit the enemy with a $25 Bond. Hurt him with a $50 Bond. Help to blow him sky-high with a $100 or $1,000 Bond. Don’t delay — every hour counts. Buy United States Defense Bonds and Stamps TODAY.”
The paper also reported that local banks were running out of denominations of the bonds.
Newspaper stories solicited volunteers to join the local defense council, alerted residents to the availability of vocational classes in useful wartime trades and informed them of rationing procedures. There also was news about residents who were serving near Pearl Harbor.
Longtime Steamboat resident Gene Cook was serving on an artillery personnel destroyer as a member of the Navy when Japan surrendered in July 1945, “a terribly fortunate time for me,” he said.
Cook, 89, said the attack on Pearl Harbor was a big event in his life, as it was for many others.
“The enormity of it for people my age and the country was really a landmark occasion,” he said. “It change a person my age’s life for the next three or four years.”
Hayden resident Sam Haslem was 11 on Dec. 7, 1941. He remembers listening to radio broadcasts of the news with his family at his grandmother’s house in Jensen, Utah.
Haslem remembers the five-mile roundtrip from his family’s ranch on horseback to get the mail when gasoline was rationed. He remembers collecting scrap metal with his classmates to buy a radio that they could listen to in school. He remembers worrying that his father, a World War I veteran in his 40s, would be called back to active duty. And he remembers the attack being the reason he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Colorado A&M, now Colorado State University.
He said his family will recognize the anniversary, as it has for the past 69 years, Pearl Harbor and the men and women who lost their lives.
“One of the most popular songs in 1942 was ‘Remember Pearl Harbor,’” he said. “That was the name of it, ‘Remember Pearl Harbor.’ The words were, ‘We’ll always remember.’ I’m of the generation that will always remember. It was a very devastating blow to this country, devastating.”