I was at Stanford in 1942, but home for the summer. Our family had a beach house in Corona Del Mar, a place where we spent much of the summer. I especially liked to go there at that time because I was seeing a girl named Patricia Chapman (who later married a friend of mine when I was away working on the dam in Oregon!)
One Saturday night that summer, we decided to go to the Fun Zone in Newport. We decided that we’d walk the three miles even though I had a car at the time. We really weren’t into politics or even the war, but the California coast including Balboa Beach were in a state of Black Out.
Japanese submarine I-17 had surfaced near Santa Barbara in February of 1942, and had shot twenty rounds at the coast, probably aiming for the Elwood Oil Fields, but missing every target. Projectiles were found on the ocean floor and a farmer’s field. A few swooshed over a local restaurant, causing the owner to call the sheriff who didn’t know what was going on! Soon the authorities were alerted and the black outs started.
Everyone was in a panic, it seemed. All windows along the coast had to have light-tight curtains. City lights remained dark, and cars were not allowed to use headlights. Further inland, a “dim-out” was imposed. Curtained windows didn’t have to be “light-tight,” and cars could drive with their headlights partially taped up. That submarine’s paltry rounds had been the first attack on the continental United States since 1812 when the British last attacked the U.S!
At our beach house, we had a big picture window overlooking the ocean. There was a lot of fuss at our house to make sure that window was light tight and that no light peeked out. Our imaginations were going crazy those days. We thought that big picture window would make a perfect target for the next Japanese submarine that came through these waters. Our house was all alone in that area so we were doubly afraid. Plenty of people drove without headlights, but I didn’t want to risk hitting a parked car. Driving in the dark was risky, so I let other people do it. They took it slowly just to get groceries and that sort of thing. But my girlfriend and I were young back then, and walking all the way to the Fun Zone wasn’t so bad.
(Part 2 next week: If there was a black out, why go to the Fun Zone at all?)