Playing Hockey in the Aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
(Note: This is a mini-edition of OTBH in honor of Pearl Harbor day. A full piece will be up next week! Stick tap to @NHLhistorygirl for the inspiration!)
"Playing under the most extraordinary circumstances that have ever attended a professional hockey game in Boston, the Bruins and Chicago Black Hawks battled to a 2-2 draw before a surprising crowd of more than 10,000 onlookers at the Garden last night."
Reporter Gerry Moore wrote the above lines on December 10th, 1941, three days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The ‘extraordinary circumstances' he was referring to were the events that followed the attack: the declaration of war on Japan by the United States, the mobilization of military and civilian resources, and a dramatic shift in the ways that Americans thought about themselves and their relationship to the rest of the world.
On December 7th, 1941, the Bruins sat atop the NHL, tied with Toronto in points. That day, they played an evening game against the Rangers, in a world that was vastly different from the one they had woken up to that morning. Moore wrote this in a December 9th Boston Globe piece: "On the ride home from New York Sunday night we heard more than one Bruin wondering out loud if it wouldn't be the right thing to return to Canada and enlist immediately rather than to wait for their regular call for which all have been duly registered."
Even the Bruins players whose country had been engaged in the conflict for quite some time already felt the shift that the attack on Pearl Harbor had brought along with it. Despite the events rocking the globe, however, officials in the NHL and other levels of hockey made the decision to continue to play, barring official word from Washington. And so on the night of December 9th, as the Bruins played the Blackhawks at home, the arena was filled with fans eager to see a game, and perhaps to engage in some semblance of normalcy in a world gone topsy-turvy. As per usual, the anthem was played at the start of the game -- but unlike other nights, the arena was completely dark when it was, except for a spotlight shining on the American flag.
Then, between the second and third period, for the first time in Boston hockey history, the game was stopped for more than 45 minutes. The reason? So that the teams and the gathered fans could listen to President Roosevelt's 28 minute radio broadcast. The players all sat on their respective benches with blankets and fans listened quietly to Roosevelt as he told them unequivocally, "We are now in this war. We are all in it -- all the way."
After the speech was over, they played the Star-Spangled banner again as a building full of 10,000 people, there to see a professional hockey team, cheered and probably wondered what the next days, months, and years might bring.
I'm not in the business of telling people how to feel about the past, and I'm not in the business of glorifying America's every move leading up to and during World War II (the immediate and pervasive existence of Japanese internment camps throughout Hawaii (and eventually elsewhere in the U.S.), if nothing else, keeps me out of the business). But this was a remarkable moment for the United States, one in which the country was reeling from a massive attack on its territory and subsequent entry into a global conflict. There's something really striking about the image of an arena full of Boston hockey fans sharing in one aspect of that moment together.