Homefront memories of Day of Infamy remain vivid for Auburn woman

Martha Fancher shares her memories of Pearl Harbor, World War II with teenage audiences
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Martha Fancher’s memories of the day 68 years ago that Pearl Harbor was attacked are crystal clear. A quiet Sunday morning in Pittsburg, getting ready for company coming for dinner. The news. Then a world turned upside down. “We had gone to church and in those days there was no TV and you didn’t listen to the radio all day,” Fancher said. “When the guests arrived, they had been listening to the radio in the car and said ‘Isn’t it awful.’” “We asked, ‘What’s awful?’” Fancher said. At that point, Fancher learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed in the morning. “We spent the afternoon glued to the radio,” Fancher said. The radio was a Spartan, the first good radio the family had and bought with one of the first paychecks her father received after becoming a teacher during the Great Depression. The images of that day and the war that followed are indelible ones for Fancher. For the past 25 years, she has shared them with Placer High School students. Fancher’s talks invariably start at her generation’s Ground Zero. Fancher tells students that the move toward war wasn’t a fait accompli, even after the attack left a nation shocked and mobilized for revenge. A key even then for many was party affiliation. Fancher’s family were Republicans and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat. “We had been listening to the news about Roosevelt talking to the Japanese and we felt things were fine,” Fancher said. “We felt Roosevelt really wanted it to happen to get involved in Germany. I was raised in a Republican family and we weren’t so fond of Roosevelt.” Fancher said that some of memories she has aren’t going to come through in textbooks. She’s experienced the terror of air-raid warnings and the scramble to find a safe place off the streets. She can point to the local Earl Crabbe Gym at Placer High School and say with authority that the painted-over windows were originally done during World War II to allow spectators at a ballgame to remain inside if an air raid took place. Fancher was initially invited by her granddaughter to talk in history teacher Hugh Moss’s class about life on the home front. A quarter of a century later, she not only brings her displays of World War II ration books and other artifacts to Placer but now also gives talks to students at Del Oro High School. In all, she’s visiting five classrooms this year with her home-front perspective. Placer teacher Greg Robinson played host to Fancher in his class before Veterans Day. “She’s a great lady with a lot of knowledge,” Robinson said. On Pearl Harbor’s attack anniversary, Fancher – now 88 – will focus some of her thoughts on a pilot who was in her church couple’s group who died training for war. But she’ll also remember that big floor-model radio and a day of uncertainty in homes across America. That uncertainty eventually evolved into resolve and victory almost 70 years ago. ------------------------------------- Seven Pearl Harbor facts 1. The first wave of planes attacking the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor arrived at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. 2. A total of 188 aircraft, eight U.S. Navy battleships, three destroyers, three cruisers and one minelayer sank or were damaged. 3. Of the 350 Japanese aircraft involved in the attack, 29 were downed. 4. 2,403 people were killed, including 68 civilians. 1,178 more were wounded. 5. A 1940 U.S. trade embargo caused financial upheaval and brought Japan closer to war. 6. The attack took less than four hours. 7. In addition to the air attack, six Japanese midget submarines participated. Sources: and