The events of one day at a place thousands of miles from Columbus shocked local residents and caused a ripple effect that would affect their lives in ways not yet fully understood.

Headlines in the Dec. 8, 1941, edition of The Evening Republican, forerunner of The Republic, offer a glimpse of local residents trying to understand Japan’s attack on the United States the day before, and what exactly transpired that morning at Pearl Harbor.

Most importantly, stories began detailing the impact the war would have locally.

The top headline screamed: “U.S. declares war after stab in back.” The story detailed how Congress approved President Roosevelt’s request for a declaration of war against Japan, how 3,000 servicemen died or were wounded at Pearl Harbor and that the U.S. had lost multiple battleships. A picture next to the main story showed the USS Oklahoma and said it had been reported sunk; in fact, it was actually one of nine sunk.

That story showed the danger the country as a whole faced and how it no longer was on the sidelines of a war more than two years old. Other stories showed how quickly the Columbus area was touched by the war. Notably, some Columbus employers experienced a direct impact.

The headline of one front-page story read: “Noblitts given new war order.” The story explained that the Noblitt-Sparks company had been awarded a $485,000 government order for metal ammunition parts. The story said the ammunition parts would be manufactured in the company’s metal furniture plant.

Noblitt-Sparks — which had come to Columbus 10 years earlier — joined thousands of other industries in converting their operations to wartime production when World War II erupted. Workers who once had assembled car mufflers and radios were suddenly asked to put together chemical and incendiary bombs, rocket-launching tubes, steel containers, fire extinguishers, anti-tank mine parts and parts for military vehicles.

Another story detailed precautions taken by the city; the headline read: “City takes quick action to guard defense plants.” At the Cummins Engine Co., concerns of sabotage resulted in erection of barricades outside the plant, blocking access to all outsiders.

The company started by Clessie Cummins and banker W.G. Irwin was 22 years old at the time. J. Irwin Miller, then 32, had been with the company for seven years, but it would be another three before he would move into an executive vice president position. Still, Miller’s imprint was already being seen in his hometown due to his involvement in architectural plans for the new First Christian Church, which would open the next year in 1942.

Additionally, the Noblitt-Sparks and Reeves Pulley company plants also checked their antisabotage defenses and were putting their special police forces on alert. Besides Noblitt-Sparks, Reeves Pulley and Cummins also had defense contracts.

The Evening Republican’s story said that city officials contacted all local defense factories and asked what assistance the local police department could be, and Mayor Fred C. Owens said that regular patrols would be made through the city’s defense sector.

The mayor also said residents could be helpful by “being awake to suspicious actions and by being willing to do everything they can to help during the emergency.”

Concerns of sabotage were reflected in the Dec. 9 Evening Republican, too, as a story detailed that the Pennsylvania Railroad was using watchmen to patrol all of its bridges across Bartholomew County.

However, another story on the front page of the Dec. 8 Evening Republican would serve as a preview of how directly involved the community would become in the war effort. Its headline stated: “Community feel camp to come as result of war.” The story said an Army camp in Columbus loomed because of the war with Japan.

In fact, it was soon after war was declared with Japan, in December, that construction of Camp Atterbury began. Located north of Columbus near Edinburgh, it served as a major Army center during the war. It had a hospital on site and served as a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian soldiers.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at or (812) 379-5639.