Today is the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines that brought the United States into World War II as a combatant. In Manila, reporters Melville Jacoby, Annalee Whitmore Jacoby, and Carl Mydans sprung into action to cover the conflict. Here's an excerpt from the book Eve of a Hundred Midnights, by Bill Lascher and published by William Morrow, describing their experience of that harrowing first day.
Last night, April 24th, 2017, the Oregon Book Awards took place in Portland. Eve of a Hundred Midnights was nominated for the Frances Fuller Victor award for general nonfiction. While the book didn't win, it was such an honor to be chosen a finalist. Moreover, being asked to write some remarks in case I did win proved to be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all of the people I appreciated for making this book possible. Here's what I would have said, because it's all still true.
"I just can't possibly write now. Perhaps a little later after bombing season." Three quarters of a century ago, today, Melville Jacoby took a brief break from his radio broadcasts for NBC, his writing and photography for Time and Life magazines, and his chaotic search for a panda -- yes, a panda -- to write to his mother and stepfather about life in wartime Chungking, or Chongqing, then the capital of China.
Melville Jacoby's interest in China can be traced back to 1936. That year and into 1937, during what would have been Mel's junior year at Stanford University, he went to China as an exchange student. There, he studied in the southern port city of Canton (that was the English transliteration of the time; it is now commonly transliterated as Guangzhou). He joined other American and Chinese students on the campus of Lingnan University (which still exists in another form in Hong Kong, while its original campus remains as part of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou).
After spending four years with the research, writing and re-writing that shaped Eve of a Hundred Midnights, I feel sometimes as if I've lived in Melville Jacoby's shoes. At least, I feel as if I've seen the world through his eyes. As you can see in the following photos, Chongqing was a place of extensive striving and, after years and years of bombing -- during his stints there in 1940 and 1941 Mel experienced 168 air raids -- deeply scarred yet incredibly resilient.