I survived the “Battle of Los Angeles”
You’ve heard of Believe it or Not by Ripley? Well believe it or not from December 1941 until 1945, as an 11yr old boy I lived through World War II in the Los Angeles beach community of Venice, California … and I’m still here to talk about it! Kidding aside, beginning in the early morning of February 24, 1942, and continuing until early morning of the 25th, I watched with worrisome glee while peeking through blackout curtains of our family home in Venice, viewing the “Battle of Los Angeles ”.
You see, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese had attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and destroyed a goodly part of the U.S. Navy, subsequently causing a declaration of war with Japan. The only communication we had for how the war was progressing was local newspapers, “Movie Tone News” at theaters and the President’s weekly “Fireside Chats” on the radio. When I think of today’s internet technology and looking back, we were quite in the dark about knowing where we stood as far as the war was concerned. No television, satellites or cell phones.
Our home in Venice was located just below and south of the west end of the runway for the Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica. The plant was completely camouflaged to eliminate air detection during daylight hours (pictured below). The company made several kinds of warplanes and as a youngster I was fascinated watching a new plane take off about every half hour.
Mar Vista hill was just south of the plant and was inundated with anti-aircraft gun emplacements. Dotting the neighborhoods of Mar Vista, Venice, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles were Barrage Balloon sites. Barrage Balloons are large rubber-like objects about 60-70 feet long and 25 feet in diameter with four tails, filled with helium and looking much like a baby blimp tethered by cable to a ground based winch. In case of an air attack, the balloons would be raised to heights reaching as high as 5,000 feet.
On that early morning of February 1942, air raid sirens sounded and those guns on Mar Vista hill gave me and my family a frightening wake-up. BOOM! BOOM! … BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Within a matter of minutes, it sounded like every battery of guns on the hill was firing. Peeking through the blackout curtains, I could see Army searchlights filling the air. My dad was an air raid warden and my older brother was a “messenger” (bicyclist to deliver messages to air raid wardens within the city during emergencies) – the telephone rang and both father and brother were called to duty. Dad left in his car (35 Pontiac Sedan) with the lights off and my brother took off on his bike …. in the dark.
The entire city was blacked out during this emergency. My mother was scared to death, I was fascinated but a little frightened at the same time. I knew about Pearl Harbor and we were at war with Japan but those guns and searchlights really got my attention. The incident was never fully explained to the public. There were rumors of all kinds circling Southern California and the greater Los Angeles area: Japanese spy planes, a stray weather balloon, an emergency test, even a UFO (recent movie with that angle) . The Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox (source: L. A. Times) finally came forward and dismissed it as a false alarm. False alarm maybe but I was there, I was awakened by the guns, I saw the searchlights, my dad and older brother left our home in the dark — it was all real and to me it was “The guns of Venice for the Battle of Los Angeles”.
See ya at the races
Unlike the many airports of the time, Santa Monica Airport was neither turned into a drag strip — should have been — nor turned into a strip mall. It’s still there and though some people complain, while the city puts quite a few limits on the facility, it’s still there and in operation. For more on the history of Venice, California, go here.