All of it sounded devastating . . .
Virginia Beer


No one in my generation can ever forget December 7th, 1941. For Phil and me it started like any other Sunday: waffles for breakfast, Mass at St. Joseph's, and then the drive back home through the chilly drizzle of December in Seattle.

As we arrived, I saw the apartment manager standing on the wet sidewalk in his shirt sleeves. He was gesticulating vehemently with a neighbor. As Phil maneuvered the little Ford to the curb, Mr. Adams signaled me to roll down the window.

"Have you heard the news?" he shouted, "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! "

"Pearl Harbor? What's that?" I asked in my East Coast ignorance.

But Phil knew.

"It's in Hawaii. A big Navy base. Did they hit anything?"

"Yes, Navy ships. We don't know much yet. Reports are still coming in. The President is going to go on the air."

"Then that means war. We'll be at war, won't we?"

Phil and I hurried up the shabby flights of stairs, past the smells of cooking Sunday dinners, to our third floor apartment, to turn on the radio.

Regular programs were being interrupted with news flashes, but the news was sketchy. The announcer's voices sounded high-pitched and tense, and they broke off what they were saying as new bulletins came in. All of it sounded devastating.

Phil and I gripped each other's hands hard as we huddled over the little set listening to those terrible news accounts. We were shocked at the death and devastation on that distant island. And it struck us at home on a more personal basis. All our hard work and ambitious dreams were being smashed along with those Navy ships, although we didn't realize it until the next day.

On the Monday after the sneak attack, our telephone rang and rang. The calls were from art directors and advertising agencies, instructing us to stop work on the commissions we'd been working on. Phil and I had been designing ads for some important accounts, including two full-page renderings of Boeing airplanes for Time magazine, as well as travel brochures for Alaska Steamship Company, and billboards for Carnation Milk. We had built a successful business, but that Japanese attack canceled all of it abruptly.

That "Day of Infamy" was a day that changed every American's life. Soon there were blackout curtains at every window, and barrage balloons and ration coupons. Phil and I didn't realize then that our thriving little art business was finished for good. We guessed that the war would be over in three months, . . . five at the most. How could little Japan stand up against the mighty USA?

But the war dragged on as one South Pacific island after another fell to the invaders. Our fleet had been crippled by the attack on Pearl Harbor, and there weren't enough ships left to defend those far-flung islands. Phil volunteered for the Navy's camouflage department, but an old back injury put him in the 4F category, unfit for overseas duty, so he went to work for the war effort as a draftsman, and I volunteered with the interceptor command.

Virginia Beer was born June 18, 1912 in Madison, New Jersey. Due to her motherís illness, she attended boarding schools from age ten until graduation from the Dana Hall school. She attended Parsons School of Design and the Pratt Institute in New York before moving to Seattle to start a freelance art studio with Phil van Phul, whom she married in 1938. After the war, Phil and Virginia lived in various sites in Washington before moving to Hawaii for Philís health. There they opened the Hidden Gallery at Lapili Kai Beach Club north of Lahaina. Phil died in 1981, and Virginia remained in Hawaii maintaining the gallery. She married Stanley Beer in 1983. Stan died in 1993, and Virginia then moved to a retirment community in Reno to be near her son, Bill.


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