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A day and year to remember

Peter Goodman is a Las Cruces news columnist, radio commentator, lawyer, and self-proclaimed rabble-rouser, and the author of The Moonlit Path, a novel.
Peter Goodman is a Las Cruces news columnist, radio commentator, lawyer, and self-proclaimed rabble-rouser, and the author of The Moonlit Path, a novel.


On Saturday, December 6, 1941, the Wonder Woman comic had just begun publication, and secessionists had declared the State of Jefferson in Yreka, California, with John C. Childs as governor.

You could buy a new car for $850 and a gallon of gas for 13 cents. A loaf of bread or gallon of milk cost 8 or 54 cents, respectively. “Two bits” (a quarter) bought a movie ticket. M&Ms, just invented, let soldiers enjoy chocolate without it melting, and were sold only to the military. Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) invented a radio guidance system for torpedoes, with a frequency-hopping signal to prevent the enemy from tracking or jamming it.

The Soviet Army had just launched a huge counter-offensive that would save Moscow from the Germans. December 6, the submarine Perseus and the SS Greenland hit mines, in the Ionian and North Seas, respectively, killing 60 and nine men.

The submarine’s sole survivor was John Capes, a non-crew-member hitching a ride to Alexandria. Three escaped. Only Capes survived the painful ascent to the surface. He swam five miles to Cephalonia Island, where folks hid him for 18 months. A diplomat’s son British authorities had sent to the Navy rather than prison after his automobile hit a horse, Capes lived until 1985. Few believed his tale until a 1997 dive confirmed it. Cephalonia became famous as the setting for the marvelous novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin(1994)

December 6, in Kirkwood, Illinois, Richard Speck was born. Speck became famous the night of July 13, 1966, when he stabbed, strangled, and/or slashed to death eight student nurses in their Chicago residence. (He had no AR-15.) His death sentence commuted, he died of a heart attack in 1991, the day before his 50th birthday. Speck’s beloved father had died of a heart attack at 53. Had his father lived, had his Christian Teetotaler mother not married an alcoholic traveling salesman with a long criminal record, whom she had met on a train, or had Speck’s July 13th ship assignment come through, the eight would have become nurses. One survived, by crawling under a bed while Speck was out of the room.

Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Buffy St.-Marie, and Dick Cheney were also born in 1941.

Folks watched Sergeant York, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, recently-released The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, or the short, Elmer's Pet Rabbit, Bugs Bunny’s second film appearance, and the first with his name on a title. Or listened on radio to the hillbilly music show Grand Ol’ Oprey, the drama Gangbusters, or Arthur Godfrey’s or Jack Benny’s comedy/variety shows – or Edward R. Murrow’s chilling report from Europe on CBS. Folks were reading James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, James Hilton‘s Random Harvest, or perhaps the latest Batman comic. Or Berlin Diary by William L. Shirer.

In New Mexico, weeks earlier, Ansel Adams had stopped beside the road and shot the wonderful black-and-white photograph, “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. New Mexicans had no clue they’d soon flock to enlist, some destined for the Bataan Death March. (Within four years, the federal government would shatter a peaceful New Mexico morning by exploding a test bomb that would destroy thousands of lives here.

Admiral Isoroko Yamamoto, his fleet having miraculously crossed the Pacific unseen, reflected on the twist of fate that had him initiating a war he had vigorously argued against, attacking a country he knew well and loved.

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.