Check Your Facts

Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day, the 80th anniversary of the day that “lives in infamy”. It was also my father’s birthday.

On that fateful day in 1941, my mother was preparing a birthday party for her fiancée. It was going to be a surprise party with lots of friends and family attending the celebration.  The party was far from joyous and like other young men and women of that era, my dad’s enlistment was just a few weeks away.

My father was selected to study Chinese and Japanese and was sent to Pearl Harbor, on a classified mission, assigned to the cryptography team responsible for tracking the Japanese military code.  

While in Pearl Harbor, he regularly wrote love letters to my mother.  When she received the letters, portions of them where her name should have appeared had been snipped . The letters had been redacted by censors.

My dad’s commanding officer called him into his office one day and asked, “Citrin, what’s your wife’s name?” When my dad told him her name was Pearl, his CO buried his face in his hands. Apparently, the censors were removing my mother’s name from wherever it showed up in the letters convinced that my father was trying to tell her where he was stationed.

Sometimes we try to get ahead of potentially dangerous situations by setting up procedures designed to mitigate problems before they happen…but that strategy can backfire unless we’ve done a careful job of making sure we’ve properly researched all the facts.

© Richard Citrin 2021

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