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New York City

December 7, 1941

By Christopher Gray

The news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came to New York on Sunday afternoon, December 7th. The F. B. I. immediately sent out protective guards to public works like the Kensico and Croton dams, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the battleships Iowa and Missouri were under construction. Crowds in Times Square were tense as they read news bulletins of the attack; The New York Times reported that sailors there said "We can whip them in no time"; but the Daily News quoted David Coward, who had served in the Philippines and China, who said "We have a tough job on our hands -- you can beat them into the dust and they come out of the ashes. They're fanatical fighters."

On Monday, the recruiting office at the Post Office at Church and Vesey Streets was swamped by men trying to enlist - women volunteers gave out coffee. At Chambers Street and Broadway, trial blasts of fire engine sirens as air raid signals drew confused stares from pedestrians, even as headlines claimed that enemy planes were reported not far offshore.

Almost six thousand people signed up to become air raid wardens - bringing the city total to 125,006. "All air raid wardens may, from now on, expect to be called for daily training. We must toughen up. It has come and we are ready" said Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He added "I want to assure all the people who have been sneering and jeering at the necessary precautions of civilian defense that we will protect them now."

Anti-aircraft guns were set up in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, at Fort Totten, in Queens, and other locations. The Port of New York Authority canceled vacations and leaves, and put guards at its bridges and tunnels.

About 200 of the 2500 Japanese nationals in New York and its suburbs were taken into custody, like Yasuo Matsui, an architect living in White Plains, who was born in Japan but came to the United States in the early 1900's; he had designed or co-designed major buildings like 40 Wall Street and the Starrett-Lehigh building.

In Manhattan, the F. B. I. took in people like Dr. Sabro Emy from his office at 1035 Park Avenue; he had graduated from New York University in 1922, and had not even seen Japan since 1917. "It's a very unfortunate situation" he told the New York Sun. Most were sent to Ellis Island.

Police had instructions to protect all Japanese and their property but one, Teddy Hara, was beaten outside his rooming house on West 46th Street. Air travel was canceled for Japanese nationals; the family of Morito Morishima, who lived at 33 East 70th Street, had made TWA reservations out of New York a week before Pearl Harbor, but had not yet left New York.

It is not clear if any of the Japanese detained in New York City were interned in the wartime camps established by the United States. Dr. Emy was ultimately released, resumed his practice and became director of anesthesiology at Misericordia Hospital. He was particularly active in Red Cross work.

Christopher Gray is New York City's finest architectural historian. He is the head of the Office for Metropolitan History, which is located at 246 West 80th Street, #8, New York City, NY 10024. He is also a regular contributor to The New York Times. His e-mail is


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