Friday, December 07, 2007

Remember Bernice Calvert




In our family, we learned to remember Pearl Harbor early in life thanks to my grandmother Bernice Bailey Calvert. But first a little background. In 1933 Bernice was a young widow with two children, managing the Broadmoor Apartments on Connecticut Avenue without her husband Roger who had been killed in a car accident. This is where she met Frank Bernard Schultz. "Bernie" had a gig playing violin at the Broadmoor's afternoon teas which earned him a little extra dough while he finished up medical school at Georgetown.




Bernie was a charming and talented guy. (Maybe too charming.) He did this sketch of Bernice on the back of his business card.


They married in 1936 and moved to a house on Broad Street in Falls Church in 1937. Originally built as a cottage in 1790, in later years a Union sympathizer, Almond Birch bought the property which backed up to the original Falls Church and enlarged the home. During the Civil War two Union officers were caught there in June of 1863. Shortly thereafter, Birch sold it to Henry Lynch, a convicted Confederate spy. Around 1900 the building became a doctor's office which made it the perfect home for Dr. and Mrs. Schultz. (Sadly the place was torn down in the late 1960s.)


But where does Pearl Harbor come in? ( Okay, it was a lot of background.)

When Bernie graduated from Georgetown he accepted a commission in the Medical Corps Reserves and was called into active service in April of 1941. He was stationed in the territory of Hawaii-which seemed like a great assignment and adventure at the time. Bernie and Bernice climbed in a car and drove to San Francisco where they were stalled for weeks waiting for a transport ship. They made the best of this time though sailing down to Los Angeles where they hung out with movie stars thanks to a MGM studio pass Bernie had from past musical connections. They rubbed elbows with Marlene Dietrich and had lunch with "Spencer and Gable." Bernie also mentions running into Charlie Chaplin and his sons at the bird zoo in Catalina. Bernie chatted up Chaplin and was allowed to take his picture as well as one of Paulette Goddard. (Boy, I wish I could find those!)



Finally a ship became available and they arrived on the Matson line in Honolulu in early July. Back then most ships were greeted by Hawaiian women with armfuls of leis, but their vessel also saw waves of P-40s and bombers dipping their wings to say "hello" to their new crew. As the ship docked, the Royal Hawaiian band played "Aloha Oe" and other native songs while crowds below shouted and waved. it was love at first sight.


Bernie wrote in a letter early after watching a sunset near Diamond Head, "It was like having walked all your life in a haze and in muck- then suddenly breaking through the mist and seeing a great panorama in front of you."



Then the attack came.



A neighbor woke them pounding on the door. Bernie turned on the radio to confirm the news. "The island of Oahu is under enemy attack...all officers report...all citizens stay off the streets. Keep calm." (no kidding) Bernie got dressed and, still not quite believing he was awake, left for Tripler with the captain who lived next door. On the way there they saw three low flying planes, and the scene now became all too real.

At the hospital wounded civilians and soldiers alike poured in all morning. One victim was even carried in on a street sign. A bomb dropped so close to the hospital that a convalescing patient died from shrapnel wounds. Towards midday Bernie went home to collect more medical supplies and surgeons' tools, but a frightening sight awaited him.  The front of their house was demolished. There was a hole in the roof, and all the windows shattered by shrapnel.

The concussion of the bomb had knocked Bernice to the floor, but she amazingly enough, she only suffered a twisted ankle. Bernie found her at a neighbor's house and took her back to the hospital where they both continued working.

Almost all the Army wives and children would leave the islands as soon as possible, but my grandmother wanted to stay despite the curfews, blackouts, and a life which included gas masks always at the ready. Bernice made this happen by becoming a censor at the post office and volunteering with the Red Cross.  Bernie later remarked how ready the Red Cross was on December 7th- not on that afternoon nor the next day- but within ten to fifteen minutes of the attack.



By February 1942 Bernice was a full time paid member of the Home Service of the Red Cross, working as a social worker for the next three years. Her evacuation was deferred. Before the USO made it to Hawaii, she and Bernie organized a theater group and gave performances throughout the islands. (I wonder if she was rethinking her decision in this shot taken I think in their living room probably around Christmas of 1942.)


Bernice stayed in Hawaii all through the war right up to the end- literally. She was aboard the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered. (Another one of her hats included being the only woman correspondent to cover the War in the South Pacific.)  One woman's journey through those turbulent years.