Then-7-year-old recalls stir at Hotel Northampton when Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor

  • Longmeadow native Dorothy Dean Aspinwall, 85, now of New Hampshire, remembers her visit to Wiggins Tavern in Northampton for a late Sunday lunch with her parents on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She returned to the Hotel Northampton on Saturday with family including her son Brian Aspinwall, left, and his daughter, Pia, both of New York. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

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    Duncan Aspinwall of New Hampshire, husband of Dorothy Dean Aspinwall, remembers the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, when he was 7, as "ominous". Aspinwall accompanied his wife on her return to the Hotel Northampton on Saturday, Dec. 7, where she had had lunch with her parents on that day 78 years ago. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2019 12:11:30 AM

NORTHAMPTON — When 7-year-old Dorothy Aspinwall stepped into the Wiggins Tavern with her parents and aunt for lunch on Dec. 7, 1941, what seemed like an ordinary day soon turned into one that would change the course of history forever.

Thousands of miles away, at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, Japanese aircraft surprise-attacked a U.S. naval base, sinking or badly damaging all eight U.S. battleships, along with much of the base, killing thousands and sparking America’s involvement in World War II — a bloody conflict that would last in the Pacific Ocean and Europe until 1945.

“The waiter didn’t come out of the kitchen and announce it, but there began to be a stir and a buzz,” Aspinwall, 85, remembered while sitting in the Coolidge Park Café 78 years to the day later. “You could just hear the commotion in the dining room, because the waiter must have been listening to the radio in the kitchen.”

Aspinwall, of Hanover, New Hampshire, was brought by family and a friend to the cafe, which is in the Hotel Northampton along with the Wiggins Tavern, on Saturday for a lunch in remembrance of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy.” Others in attendance were Dorothy’s husband, Duncan Aspinwall, their two sons, Dwight Aspinwall and Brian Aspinwall, her granddaughter Pia Aspinwall, and a friend, Lisa Penberthy.

Aspinwall doesn’t remember the details of the day other than the commotion in the restaurant since she was so young. She remembers it was daylight, but doesn’t remember what she ate or if it was busy. Aspinwall said she didn’t understand the gravity of what happened until much later.

“I don’t remember that I felt much,” she said. “Surely the adults were shocked.”

Throughout the war, Aspinwall and her family grew vegetables at their Longmeadow home in their own version of what was called a “Victory Garden,” which were encouraged by the federal government during war rationing to reduce the stress on the country’s food supply. Her family would also collect metal from their home for wartime scrap metal drives, which were used for the production of munitions.

“I do remember going down to the basement with my family and collecting all of this old stuff,” Aspinwall said. “I walked up the street with a wagon filled with it.”

Duncan grew up in Barrington, Illinois during the war, and remembers listening to the radio as a 7-year-old with his parents in their living room on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

“It was rather ominous,” Duncan said of the tenor of his living room that day.

Both Duncan and Dorothy’s fathers unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the military. Duncan said he remembers that his father was told that he was needed in America more than on the front because he had children to take care of.

When the war ended, Dorothy said, she was living in Winthrop and “there was much jubilation. People were celebrating in the streets.”

The war had a profound impact on their generation, both Duncan and Dorothy said.

“Everything in our lives was affected by the war,” Duncan said. “It was a time when the country came together.”

It’s important to reflect on the lessons of history for at least one simple reason, Dorothy said: “It could happen again.”

Michael Connors can be reached at
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