On December 7, 1941, 27,000 Washingtonians were at the old Griffith Stadium watching the Redskins play their last game of the season. They were playing the Philadelphia Eagles.
At half time the crowd was to learn only indirectly that the United States was under attack. Stadium management did not want to put the news on the public address system. They said it might cause hysteria.
At the Embassy of Japan on Massachusetts Avenue, NW, there was an eerie calm as smoke billowed from the compound, punctuated by the crackling sounds of burning documents.
The next day President Franklin Roosevelt arrived on Capitol Hill-riding for the first time in an armored limousine. The Treasury Department had seized the bulletproof car in Al Capone's tax invasion case.
"I hope Mr. Capone won't mind," joked the President.
Roosevelt spoke for less than five minutes before members of Congress. His words stunned the nation.
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
Four days after Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States reciprocated and the Nation's Capital was changed forever.
"Civilian defense is your own personal opportunity," said President Roosevelt. "Join your neighbors in your own hometown to serve your country."
Washington, like a lot of the nation was scared. Literally under siege, but from within. If the Japanese bombed Hawaii, what was to keep them from attacking the nation's capital thought many.
The government ordered air raid drills and blackouts. Gas masks were handed out to citizens, including school children.
"When the sirens went off, we climbed up the cedar trees," Donny Wolfe told WUSA9 back in 1991. Wolfe lived in Greenbelt in 1941. "And you could look out over Washington. You could see the Capitol and you could see the Monument. It was just blacked out. It was really exciting."
There was also a Washington population explosion following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hundreds of thousands of thousands of people arriving at Union Station and the new National Airport.
Many en-route to distant ports and harms way. Many to work here for the government. Housing was so scarce, Washingtonians opened their homes to the transplants.
The city suffered its first big traffic jams and the American Automobile Association felt compelled to inaugurate a traffic safety program.
Crime also surged in D.C. A call went out for more police. Newsweek magazine called Washington "The murder capital of the U.S."
"I remember being sent to the store one day with 50-cents and a token," explained longtime D.C. resident Elsie Morgan. "And dropping that token. And believe you me, I scrambled for that token. Because it was a very precious thing. If you didn't have it, you couldn't buy."