On Dec. 5, 1941, 24-year-old W. Francis Roberts wrote his family a letter from Hawaii.
“Well I have already bought your Santa Clause,” Roberts wrote on stationery showcasing the U.S.S. Arizona, his temporary home. “I had to buy it early because of the boat schedule.”
Two days later, on the “date which will live in infamy,” Roberts and 32 other Alabamians would be among the 1,177 men for whom the U.S.S. Arizona went from a temporary home to a permanent resting place.
Roberts’ letter is part of a newly renovated Pearl Harbor exhibit opening to the public beginning Friday at the Berman Museum in Anniston. The display seeks to highlight the personal stories of locals who lost their lives in Japan’s attack on the Pacific naval base.
Roberts, a seaman 2nd class in the Navy, told his family about his shopping trip in that letter.
“I went over one Saturday with $20 in my pocket and bought your presents, and Aunt Alma and Uncle Howard one,” he wrote. “Also one for Margaret Gurley because she sent me a … box of candy and Coke for last Xmas. And I sure didn’t forget it.”
History won’t soon forget Roberts and his fellow fallen, if Berman Museum has any say. Three of them were from Calhoun County.
“This room has always spoken to me,” Renee Lyons, public relations and marketing manager for the museum, said Thursday, as she and a colleague showed a Star reporter the new renovations. “It’s always one of the only things people typically remember from history class, so it sticks with you.”
Lyons and Sabra Gossett, the facility’s registrar, said that Berman’s WWII collection is world-class.
“We have the largest piece of the U.S.S. Arizona ever given out by the Navy,” Gossett said.
That weighty chunk of history lies under glass in the museum’s updated exhibit, overlooked by a photo of Roberts and a U.S. Navy emblem where staff hope a photo of Seaman 2nd Class Frank Weaver Hindman will be placed.
Hindman, a Piedmont native, was entombed alongside Roberts on the Arizona at the age of eighteen, just two days before his nineteenth birthday.
“We hope that as people come and see the exhibit, we’ll find out more about Hindman, and maybe get a photo,” Lyons said.
Community participation has been crucial to developing the museum’s collection.
Lyons and Gossett said many of the exhibit’s artifacts are on loan from family and others who’ve collected these important pieces over the years.
“A man named Tom Collins found a lot of Roberts’ things in a trunk he bought at an estate sale,” Gossett said, “and he did a lot of research. We’re happy to have it here now.”
The Pearl Harbor room at the museum had been closed since June 21 to allow for the updates, which the staff hopes will bring the Pearl Harbor story to life for visitors.
Now, for example, patrons enter the exhibit by walking under a mock bulkhead constructed by the museum.
“It’s like walking right onto the Arizona,” Lyons said.
The Berman Museum is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.