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A reporter recalls 'a day of infamy'

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8:30 - At the back of every head is one thought - ''It can't be true!'' Reporters who have been out on the streets say the crowds don't seem to realize it. The police have moved the crowd out of Executive Avenue back to Pennsylvania Avenue. They are bunched around the iron rails of the White House moving aimlessly around. It is a crisp Washington night, temperature about freezing, clear overhead.

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8:34 - Now we are outdoors. This is the portico of the White House itself. Reporters stand here stamping and threshing under eight great columns - the columns of the front entrance that every schoolchild knows. About 30 reporters are here. We are watching the Cabinet go in. They drive up in sleek cars, get out at the stone steps, walk up to our level and pass through. They look grim. They won't talk. Last one in is secretary of Navy (Frank) Knox. How did he ever let the Navy be surprised? The Japanese did the same thing to the Russians at Port Arthur, the same tactics exactly. Reports are one battleship been sunk, another set on fire. Tragic if true. But we don't know for sure. Tomorrow - or history, will tell(*).

* The battleships Nevada, California, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, and Arizona were sunk.

8:45 - Now the congressional leaders are coming in, Jere Cooper, first, taking majority leader (John) McCormack's place, then Sen. Charles McNary and others. A misty moon is rising to the left. Straight ahead through the columns over the vista of the White House fountain and grounds we can see people peering in at us through the iron railing. Behind run the trolley cars.

8:50 p.m. - What a sight. The great isolationist, Hiram Johnson, grim-faced, immaculately dressed, stalks across our little stone stage on the White House portico. All the ghosts of isolationism talk with him, all the beliefs that the US could stay out of war if it made no attack. Where is William Borah's statement today that ''there will be no war,'' that this is a ''phony war?'' Hiram Johnson goes by, refusing to comment, looking straight ahead through the crowd of reporters who are silenced with the sense of history passing and a chapter closing. A flunkey inside opens the glass doors. Hiram Johnson goes inside.

8:55 - A touch of humor now Sen. 'Pappy' O'Daniel of Texas, who has not been invited, puts in an appearance saying that he has come to get information and put his service at the President's disposal. He emerges five minutes later. Apparently his services are not needed tonight.

9:00 - Senator Austin of Vermont enters in derby hat. He speaks for all: ''We are going to have a vacation from politics. The one thing has happened necessary to get the national workshop running.''

9:15 - Senator Connally arrives. The moon is higher now, through the cold, bare boughs.

9:30 - Senator Connally puts his head out of the glass door. He has a statement, will somebody read it? He listens approvingly as pencils write it down. ''Japan began this war in treachery. We shall end it in victory.''

10:00 - Now it is a long cold wait on the stone portico.

10:30 - The President will go up in person tomorrow. That's the latest news.

10:40 - They have started coming out, Tom Connally first.

11:00 - They come out in ones and twos. They won't talk. They went in grim, they come out glum. (Wonder about those battleships?)

11:30 - Cracked voices of the thinning crowd across from us lift up ''God Bless America.'' The moon has climbed straight up, almost out of sight under the White House eaves. It is carrying water and is round at the bottom and eaten away at the top.

11:25 - Tall, gentle-looking Cordell Hull comes out, with two Secret Service bodyguards. He is kind and quiet with reporters; they are suddenly respectful. ''Good night, sir!'' says the group. The car drives off.

12:20 a.m. - My taxi pauses in front of the White House. Crowds are gone. Policemen stroll back and forth before the rails, even as late as this, cars are coming away from the front entrance. The city has dimmed its lights as a war precaution.