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A reporter recalls 'a day of infamy'

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This is the story of how a war starts. . . . With those words I began an hour-by-hour account of Pearl Harbor day 40 years ago (Dec. 7, 1941), written down unbelievingly as it happened.

But it only touches the high cracked voices of the crowd at 11 o'clock last night singing ''God Bless America'' on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, or the look on the faces of the Cabinet as they came out in ones or twos and rolled off in sleek cars under the misty yellow moon that rose higher and higher all during the gathering, and looked as though mice had chewed away its upper part.

Those were the words I wrote, but we looked at each other in disbelief. The mood of the nation was anxious, somber. For 17 months Britain had fought alone. France had fallen, Europe had fallen, Panzer tanks pounded at the doors of Moscow. America had just extended the draft act yes, but by only one vote. That told the strain. The Monitor had sent me out to write 30 articles on the ''Mood of America.'' And the mood? Why, a bit like today, only vastly more menacing. If you can live matter-of-factly with the possibility of a nuclear war as we do today, you can live in 1941 with the hope of peace though the rest of the world is warring. We were all very matter-of-fact until Dec. 7.

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7

Listen to the radio, a friend phones. It says Japanese are bombing Manila (later denied - but later carried out) and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I go to the White House.

4:00 p.m. - Traffic thickens around White House, the (old) State Department blocked off. There's a crowd in the street, a movie camera set up.

4:56 - The White House press room blazes with light. Stephen T. Early has held four press conferences so far. It is jammed with reporters, broadcasters, technicians milling about. Some remove coats, calmly going to work for the night. Radios blare or rattle suddenly like machine guns or one of the phones rings.

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