PEARL HARBOR: Fireside Scene

It was a mild December night for Washington—cool and damp. In the big, oval study on the second floor of the White House, a cheery blaze crackled in the grey marble fireplace. Franklin Roosevelt leaned back in his big leather easy chair. Up & down the cluttered, cream-walled room, Harry Hopkins paced nervously. History was expected.

At 9:30, a trim, black-haired Navy lieutenant named Lester R. Schulzstrode into the room carrying a locked pouch. The President reachedeagerly for the just decoded papers—the first 13 parts of the finalJapanese reply to State Secretary Hull. Franklin Roosevelt read themthrough in ten minutes, waited for Hopkins to read and hand them back.Then the President said: “This means war.”

Today’s sole survivor of this scene on Dec. 6, 1941 had been no morethan part of the background. But he had listened carefully. Last week,as Commander Schulz, soon to become executive officer of the battleshipIndiana, he told the story to the Pearl Harbor Committee.

Hopkins had said: “It’s too bad we can’t strike first and prevent asurprise.” The President nodded—but said: “No, we can’t do that. Weare a democracy of peaceful people. We have a good record. We muststand on it.”

They began discussing the probable point of attack. Hopkins guessedIndo-China. Neither mentioned Pearl Harbor; neither discussed the timethe war might begin.

Mr. Roosevelt then tried to contact his Naval Chief, Admiral Harold R.Stark. “Betty” Stark was at the theater. The President decided not to disturb him lest it cause “public alarm.”

The fire fell away to embers. The President handed the papers back toLieut. Schulz. The lieutenant departed. Four years later, given thisincomplete glimpse of an historic scene, the nation could only wishthat he might have stayed a little longer.

Tap to read full story

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at