Each year in the weeks leading up to today, Mary Bowen periodically leafs through a hard-bound Associated Press book that details the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

It’s a ritual the 87-year-old Lackawannock Township woman continued again this year, the 65th anniversary of the attack that killed more than 2,300 Americans in a barrage that propelled the United States into World War II and has led history teachers to drill the date Dec. 7, 1941, into the minds of their students.

Mrs. Bowen lived next to the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii with her husband Lacell, who she said was working on a secret underground fuel storage project for the Navy.

Living in a militarized zone, Mrs. Bowen often heard gunfire, but it got to the point she did not pay any attention to the sounds of soldiers testing their weapons.

The first Sunday in December, the then-22-year-old Mercer County native heard enough gunfire and planes flying overhead to know it was no test.

“My husband jumped up and my little boy (2-year-old Lacell Jr.), we were out on the porch,” she said. “Here there is a lot of neighbors out there in front of our house. The MPs (military police) and everybody and they said, ‘We have war with Japan.’ I guess. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”

During the bombing, she went to a neighbor’s house while her husband went to volunteer. He was working for the Navy at the time, but was not in the military.

“Now I didn’t know if he was going to come back ... so it was really scary,” Mrs. Bowen said. She recalled that the uncertainty kept her up all night with her friends.

After the bombing, the military ordered all residents to keep their lights off at night. Mrs. Bowen said she could hardly do anything without light, so she decided to paint all her windows black.

“They said even a match, don’t light a cigarette because a plane could see it,” she said.

No one was allowed to leave their homes without a gas mask, and those who got caught without a mask were fined.

“Other than that, we just lived normally, because if the Japanese come, they come,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.” She left Hawaii and returned to the mainland three months after the bombings.

Mrs. Bowen may have been surprised the Japanese attacked so close to her home, but she said she knew earlier in the week of a planned Japanese bombing.

There is some debate among historians about just how much the United States knew of an impending attack. Some theorize the government knew of the attack, but did little to stop it so the country would be forced to go to war.

One of Mrs. Bowen’s six brothers, George Brindza, was stationed at Schofield Barracks, an Army base located near the center of the island of Oahu. Brindza regularly got a pass to leave the base and visit his sister on the weekends, but the week before the attack, he did not visit until Tuesday.

Mrs. Bowen asked him why he could not get away.

“He said, ‘Oh we were on maneuvers. The Japanese are coming to bomb us,’ ’’ she related. “So I knew it a week before they bombed and if I knew it –– I’m a little peon –– the government didn’t know it? They knew it. They knew it.”

Mrs. Bowen said her letters home to relatives in which she wrote of an impending Japanese attack were censored because the United States did not want to risk the Japanese intercepting that information.

Mrs. Bowen returned to Pearl Harbor in 1975 and stepped aboard the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk during the attack. The names of all those killed in the attack, including the battleship’s 1,177 crew members, are etched on a tablet aboard the ship.

Mrs. Bowen recently opened up her AP history book and pointed to the spot where the Arizona was stationed 65 years ago today. She talks with enthusiasm of preserving the memory of the attack for younger generations, but her memories of the attack can only go so far.

“When I get the book out and start reading it, I get choked up,” she said. “I still can’t talk about it.”

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