President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously proclaimed December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy.”
But FDR based his comments on reports of the carnage in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Patricia Cameron, better than FDR, knew how infamous the date really was.
“I heard boom, boom, boom and it was terrifying,” the 91-year-old Camp Hill woman said in a booming voice.
Patricia was 16 that day and the memories are still vivid. She was the proud daughter of a naval officer living in Oahu on that infamous day. She remembers being stunned as Japanese Zeros flew right over her house and zeroed in on the U.S. fleet in the harbor below.
“There was the Navy,” Patricia said haltingly and then twice for emphasis, “in ruins, in ruins.”
Smoke, sunken ships and death were a stark contrast to Patricia’s life in Hawaii before that day. She calls it a paradise. She was a senior at the Punahou School, which would much later matriculate Barack Obama.
“Life was beautiful,” Patricia said with a wide grin. “I was having very good time. I was a happy teenager.”
But happy days for Patricia, and the nation, were suspended. The nation changed forever. Patricia and her mother were soon on the first passenger ship out of Hawaii, a dangerous five-and-a-half-day sail to California. Two destroyers escorted the ship that was well beyond its normal capacity as people fled the Pacific islands.
“We spent Christmas Eve in our life jackets because of the fear of Japanese submarines.”
Patricia’s father William became a Navy admiral. So did her brother, also William. Both survived the war. Patricia anchored in Camp Hill and she, too, was a commander as founding director of St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Harrisburg. Her mission was to help educate as many in the neighborhood as possible.
“My one son said the other day, ‘you had a passion for that school,'” Patricia said. “And I have a passion for those kids.”
Patricia has four kids, seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. She says she answers their questions about Pearl Harbor but believes there is a lesson for the rest of us.
“The lesson that people need to know is peace is not to be taken for granted and pleasure is not to be taken for granted,” Patricia said. “We’re very fortunate when we have a happy day, but we need to have the intestinal fortitude that is required on a bad day.”