We are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War Two by highlighting some items in our collections relating to this event.
How did Henry A. Wallace, an Iowan and national politician respond to the coming of World War II to the United States? A look at his official Vice Presidential diaries reveals little. The day when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor was December 7, 1941, a Sunday. Vice President Wallace’s schedule for that day is empty. But that does not mean that he was not busy that day. John C. Culver and John Hyde in their biography of Wallace titled American Dreamer, write:
“[...] Wallace went to New York City with Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins to meet with Latin American officials. They were there to discuss the need for pan-American unity and his vision for a world in which democracy and abundance would become reality. [...]
Shortly after lunch that day (1:25 PM on the East coast; 7:55 AM in Hawaii) Japan launched an air attack on the U.S. fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. Wallace learned of the attack from someone who heard a news flash on the radio. A few minutes later a White House operator reached him on the phone and said a plane was waiting at the airport to return him to Washington immediately.
Wallace went directly to the White House, where he learned the grim facts: 2,403 American lives lost, hundreds more wounded, the battleship Arizona and 18 other ships ruined, hundreds of planes destroyed or damaged. Roosevelt had cabled the words “Fight Back” when he learned of the attack. [...]
Wallace stayed at the White House through the long evening, discussing the situation with Roosevelt personally, then sitting through somber meetings with the cabinet and congressional leaders, remaining until almost midnight to talk again with Roosevelt and [Under Secretary of State] Sumner Welles. The president was “really very gravely concerned,” Wallace later said. “We all were drawn very close together by the emergency. Americans are very good when they really get up against it.” (Culver and Hyde, American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace. W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, 264)
Walllace’s vice presidential diary for the next day lists a 10 AM White House conference, and a noontime “Joint Session of Congress – Declaration of War on Japan.”
To see our digital Henry A. Wallace collection, go to
To see the description of our larger, physical collection of the papers of Henry A. Wallace, got to