Ellie Ritz remembers the Day of Infamy

Ellie Ritz has never seen the traveling display commemorating the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  She came to the Plymouth Museum to see the photos of a day she knew all too well. Ritz was a six-year old girl living near Pearl Harbor on the day of the attacks.

Looking at the photos from that day, Ritz was moved to tears. It opened up a floodgate of memories, both good and sad.

Her family is Portuguese. Ritz her mother’s mom and dad and her dad’s mother all immigrated to the United States from Portugal. They settled in Hawaii after finding out some of their family had settled there.

For her relatives, Ritz said they arrived in Hawaii but had to work to repay what it cost to bring them there.

Her father worked for a meat market. He was a butcher.

“My mom worked in a drug store,” Ritz explained. “She was also a seamstress for Sears.”

Ritz was six years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Even though she was a youngster, the earth shattering moments of that day remain with her.

“I went to a Catholic School,” she said. “I had to go to mass on Sunday morning. The 8 o’clock mass was for the children.

“My mom got me dressed up and sent me on my way to church,” Ritz recalled. “It was a good half-hour to 45 minute walk for me to go.”

After mass, Ritz said she was walking home.

“I looked up and there were planes,” she said. “It was just amazing. There was smoke in the air and everything. I thought they were just doing maneuvers.”

Ritz said she took her time walking home, not realizing what she was seeing was Japanese aircraft flying over Pearl Harbor.

“When I got home, my mother opened the door and pulled me in,” she explained. “Right across the street from us was the school. There were the anti-aircraft firing at the planes. The shells were landing in the field right across the street from us.

“When my mother opened the door,” Ritz noted, “a piece of shrapnel went right by her, and a coconut tree fell down from my neighbor’s yard. And, that scared us. Scared me.”

Her mother explained to the six year old what was going on with the bombings.

“My grandfather would go for Sunday rides,” Ritz recalled. “We would sit and look over at Pearl Harbor. He kept saying, ‘One day, the Japanese are going to bomb it.’ He knew it.”

Several uncles lived in the same neighborhood as Ritz and her family. At the end of the neighborhood was a river. Her father and uncles were on a bridge over the river watching the destruction the convoys leaving. Her father and uncles were eventually told to go back to their homes and get under cover.”

Ritz said the people living around Pearl Harbor were told not to drink any water. There could not be any lights shining from windows in their homes at night.

Her mother, Ritz explained, put up sheets over the windows. Her uncle would have to go around and see if there were lights showing from houses in their neighborhood.

“They were afraid that the Japanese had landed in the basin in the water,” she said. “So, you couldn’t drink water. That was going on all during the day.”

Families only had radios to hear music or news programs. Ritz said her mother had the radio on because President Roosevelt was going to speak.

“He said, ‘It was a day that will live in infamy,’” she recalled of that day. “I can still remember, she made me, my brother was just a little baby, but he had to be by us with Dad.

“She said, we are going to pray,” Ritz said of her mother. And we sat by that radio, and she led us in the Rosary.”

Ritz said she and her classmates in the first grade did not go back to school. Her family had to build a bomb shelter in their yard. Her father and uncles got shovels and dug.

“When they would have air raids, we would have to leave the house and go into our shelter,” she said. “And, there were people that went around and checked to see that we did.”

It was after Christmas that Ritz said they could return to school. After the bombing, school was different.

“The Army had taken over our school,” she explained. “They took part of it, so we only went to school half-days. We had to get gas masks.

“We all had to get ID’d,” she added. “When we went to school every morning, there would be a soldier standing there checking we had our gas mask and ID. Then they would let us go in.”

Instead of fire drills, Ritz said students had air raid drills. Wearing a gas mask at six years of age was “horrific.”

Four or five blocks from her school, she said there was a whole neighborhood of people who were mainly Japanese.

“I know that they didn’t realize that they were dropping bombs there,” she pointed out.

“The Army was in our school until the end of that school year,” Ritz explained, “before we got our school back. We were really confined. We got to go to school, and we got to go home. That was it.”

Families received rations. She said there was a limit as to what families could buy for such commodities as meat. Her father was strictly against alcohol.

“My mom would trade our alcohol rations for some food,” Ritz explained.

In 1953, as a high school student, she got a special look at the Pearl Harbor Memorial at the site of the Arizona. She was the editor of her school paper.

“They invited all of the news editors from all the local schools,” she recalled. “I got to be there when they dedicated the memorial. That was so special.”

Ritz and her husband, Lawrence, had five children. One of her sons, Jeff, is the superintendent of the Willard City Schools.

Dec. 7, 1941 is a day that will never be forgotten. Especially by a six year old girl.

“It’s a day that will live in infamy,” Ritz pointed out. “For me. You never forget.”