Raritan Residents Recall the Japanese Attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th, 1941
December 7th, 1941 was a clear, sunny yet cold afternoon in Raritan New Jersey. That day most people were going about their usual Sunday routine. First going to church, then settling in with family. Anyone old enough to remember can recall where they were when they heard the news that the Japanese had attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. The first news of the attack was broadcast at 2:26 PM.
Anna Navatto recalled that that Sunday had started out like most Sundays. Their home at 4 W. Somerset Street (where she still lives today) was the hub of the family. As was often the case, friends and family were over playing cards. The radio was on when they heard the announcement about the Japanese bombing the U.S. at Pearl Harbor—a place they were not familiar with. So they pulled out some maps to see where Pearl Harbor was. Most of those present sat in bewilderment, but Anna remembers her mother was not taking it well and was hysterical.

Also there that day was her brother Albert who was already in the army. He was due to return to the base at McGuire later that night. But he quickly contacted his fellow army buddy who was due to drive them back that night and they agreed to return to the base immediately.
James Sorace who would later own the J&J Barbershop on Somerset Street in Raritan was 17. He went to New York City to see The Woody Herman Orchestra at The Strand Theatre. In the middle of the concert, the music stopped and an announcer said that the U.S had just been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor—and that service men from a Navy ship that had been docked in New York Harbor would need to report back to their ship immediately. The band then resumed playing to the stunned crowd.
Former Raritan Councilman and one time Mayor Anthony Hudak recalled that after attending church at St. Joes his family went to his grandparent’s house at 91 Somerset Street. Many Aunts and Uncles also attended this traditional Sunday afternoon family get together. While listening to the radio that afternoon a special bulletin interrupted to announce that the U.S. had been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Since some initial news bulletins did not say Hawaii, there was confusion and debate among the family, they, like many in the U.S. were wondering, where (and what) is Pearl Harbor? As more radio reports came in the next hour, it was learned that Pearl Harbor was in Naval Base in Hawaii.
At another home in Raritan, 10 Anderson Street, where the DeCicco’s lived, there was no doubt about where and what Pearl Harbor was. For their son Michael was stationed at Pearl Harbor. He was enlisted in the Navy serving aboard The Helena which was then docked at Pearl Harbor.

A 7 year old Anthony DeCicco (shown left), who would later serve as Raritan’s Mayor, recalled his mother and his two sisters crying as the ongoing radio reports were bringing to light the gravity of the losses that the U.S. had suffered. The fate of Michael was unknown and would not be known for days.
Click for full photo
St. Ann’s Deacon John Pacifico, was 13 years old, he was serving his last year as an alter boy at St. Ann’s Church, remembered the immediate commotion and anxiety of the late afternoon on Sunday December 7th, but his most vivid memory is from the next day at Somerville High School. All the students were ushered into the auditorium for an important assembly. At 12:30 PM over the school sound system they heard President Franklin Roosevelt, whose speech before congress was being broadcast to a record 65 million people. John Pacifico recalled Roosevelt’s famous speech which began with the words “Yesterday December 7th, 1941—a date that will live in infamy-the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Raritan's Michael DeCicco was at Pearl Harbor - Here is His Story
At 7:55 AM on Sunday December 7th, 1941, Michael DeCicco was setting up chairs for a church service on board his ship the Helena—a Navy Destroyer which was docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The Helena was docked at what was called the 1010 Harbor. It was across from “battleship row” - where the US Navy’s large battleships were docked. Michael observed many planes approaching at low attitude. As they came close by he saw a red circle on the side of each aircraft, this symbol was “the rising sun” and it belonged to Japan. He immediately realized what this meant. No one had expected war at the base, but here it was. Within three minutes of the first Japanese bomb exploding, the attack came his way, one enemy plane released a torpedo aimed at The Oglala which was an old mine layer that was docked in front of the Helena. (Most ships were docked two deep at Pearl Harbor.) The torpedo went under the bottom of the smaller Oglala and hit Michael’s ship The Helena. The engine room clock stopped at 7:57 AM. The explosion killed several on the ship. One engine room and one boiler room were flooded. Some wiring was severed—cutting power to some of the guns. The sailors immediately responded by closing the water tight doors and hatches throughout the flooded areas. This kept the ship afloat. An additional generator was started and power was soon restored to all guns.

The debris that broke apart from the two ships covered the 1010 dock. The section that had been set up for church now looked like a cyclone had hit it. But quickly Michael DeCicco and the other crew members started to fight back and got the anti-aircraft guns firing at the Japanese planes. Historians credit The Helena as one of the first ships to start fighting back at Pearl Harbor. Michael helped to ready the ammunition that was being fired at the attacking aircraft. The attacking enemy aircraft fired back, inflecting more casualties on The Helena sailors.

The initial torpedo blast on the Helena was so great that it burst the seams of the ship next to it, The Oglala. Soon, the Oglala started listing heavily and her signal flags drooped over the Helena’s bridge. Sailors responded by getting a tug boat to clear the sinking Oglala away from the Helena so it would not interfere with the anti-aircraft fire.

The Helena would shoot down at least one Japanese plane and perhaps as many as three. In the confusion of battle it is hard to determine exactly which ship fired which shot.

The attack lasted just under 2 hours. The Japanese planes returned to their aircraft carriers and withdrew. While the Japanese were the proud winners of the battle at Pearl Harbor, every Japanese ship that participated in the attack would be sunk by the end of the war. The Helena was soon repaired and the crew along with Raritan’s Michael DeCicco would return to battle the Japanese again at Guadalcanal and other battles.