Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Pearl Harbor blackout practice a success

In the days following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, tensions were understandably heightened on the Pacific Coast. Even before the fateful attack, cities like Portland staged practice blackouts to prepare citizens for a possible attack on U.S. soil.

Pendleton staged a 15-minute blackout trial run on Dec. 10 to judge the speed at which Pendleton could plunge itself into total darkness. The downtown fire siren and the whistle at Harris Pine Mills gave two five-minute-long blasts at 7:30 p.m. to signal the blackout, and within three minutes virtually 100 percent of the city had gone dark. Mayor C.L. Lieuallen revealed that only 30 people out of a population of about 12,000 had to be warned by wardens to turn out their lights.

From nearby hills, observers commented that the blackout was so quick and complete that it looked as if the city had dropped into an abyss. But cars approaching Pendleton ringed the blacked-out town, and even though drivers were required to turn out their headlights when entering the city limits, officials admitted it was an issue that would require further thought. Blue cellophane placed over headlights did little to mask them, lighting up the street for several blocks, and even a carelessly lit match or the burning end of a cigarette stood out like a beacon.

Pendleton residents took pride in the success of the blackout practice, even chastising their neighbors when lights were not snuffed promptly. And the only two people who gave wardens an argument about turning off their lights were said to be under investigation “to determine whether or not they are good Americans.”

The blackout ended at 7:45 p.m. when street lights were turned on as a signal that the practice run was over.

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