The 10 days that followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were anxious ones for 16-year-old Virginia (Wentzlaff) Christle and her family.
She can still picture her mother getting up from her sewing on that fateful Sunday and going outside to tell her dad the news she had heard on the radio. The U.S. Navy station where her older brother, Ed Wentzlaff, was stationed had been hit by Japanese planes. The news grew worse when they later learned of the many U.S. casualties and that the USS Arizona - Wentzlaff's ship - had been sunk.
Virginia Christle of Brainerd pointed out an American Legion publication that featured a story on her brother, 92-year-old Ed Wentzlaff of Milaca. Wentzlaff is one of the few survivors of the Japanese attack on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, who is still alive. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
The Wentzlaffs farmed near Nicollet, a southern Minnesota town between New Ulm and Mankato. Christle, a sophomore in high school, boarded with another family and worked as a housekeeper. Among other duties, she was charged with making sure the family's laundry was on the line before she went off to school. Return trips to be with her own family were every other weekend.
It wasn't until Dec. 17 that Wentzlaff's parents received a brief message that gladdened their hearts. Her brother had sent word to the family: "I'm OK. Will write later."
Christle, who has lived in Brainerd since 1967, remembers her reaction to the welcome news.
"He's safe," she recalled thinking. "Prayers are answered. That's what we were told - to pray."
Ed Wentzlaff, now 92, and living in Milaca, is one of the few members of that crew still alive today. Christle said her brother has visited the USS Arizona on several occasions. The ship now serves as both a memorial and the final resting place for many of the 1,117 crewmen who lost their lives on Dec. 7. After Pearl Harbor, Wentzlaff continued to serve in the U.S. Navy and wasn't reunited with his family until after World War II.
Work experience: Retired now but spent many years as a long-term teaching substitute in the Brainerd School District and 20 years working part time at the supper club and marina at Breezy Point Resort.
Favorite World War II movies: Tora! Tora! Tora! and Battle of the Bulge.
Advice from her father: Pay your bills.
Family: Her husband, Bill, died in 1999. They had four children. She has 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Moved to Brainerd: In 1967.
Favorite authors: Nicholas Sparks, Mary Higgins Clark and John Grisham.
Pet peeve: If I don't get the Brainerd Dispatch with the crossword puzzle I'm very upset.
Hobbies: I love to read.
Volunteer activities: A quilter at St. Francis Catholic Church, helps at the Soup Kitchen, helps with funeral meals with St. Mary Margaret Guild.
Favorite TV show: Jeopardy.
What she remembers of her family's eventual reunion with her older brother was lots of hugging and a feeling of relief to see him alive.
"Everyone was just so joyful," Christle said of the war's end. "Our families are coming back again."
Christle said her brother is often asked to sign war pictures and memorabilia because of his status as a Pearl Harbor survivor.
"He's happy to tell you what he knows about it," she said. "Lest we not forget."
War on the home front had its challenges as well, Christle recalled. The nation was still bouncing back from the Great Depression. Sugar, gasoline and other staples of everyday life were rationed, she said. Coffee and salt were precious commodities.
"Shoes were poorly made," she recalled.
Christle's father headed a household with nine children and used his hunting skills to help feed his family. His formal schooling had ended after the third grade.
After high school, when she attended teacher training in New Ulm, she recalled walking 16 blocks to school and walking home at noon for lunch.
Christle earned $1,000 a year in one of her early teaching posts. She had agreed to pay her aunt $25 a month while living in her home but after making her first payment the generous relative marked the bill "paid in full."
There wasn't a lot of money so Christle's leisure activities were simple ones. She loved to dance but most of those rare opportunities presented themselves at weddings, when the dances were free.
"We did a lot of family things together," she said. "We couldn't afford to go anywhere."
It was at a dance in New Ulm that she met Bill Christle. They were married in 1946.
The tough times her generation went through left an impression on them, she said. "I don't think younger people ... all these credit cards. They don't know how tough it is."
She has attended Brainerd commemorations of Pearl Harbor Day and remembers being surprised when she encountered a teenager who acted like he had never heard of Pearl Harbor. Christle said in her view it's important to remember the past and the sacrifices made by others.
"I don't know what they're teaching in history now," she said.
Christle doesn't like to drive on the highways very much these days so she usually stays in contact with her brother, Ed, by telephone.
"I'm real proud of him," she said.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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