Times were tough for most Americans during the Depression, but it must have been especially so for Rosa Conlin. And then it got worse.
Her husband Henry died in 1929, leaving her with eight children between the ages of 8 months and 9 years.
The eldest, Maurice, joined the Navy in January 1940 when he was 19. That spring, when the census was conducted, Mrs. Conlin listed herself as a janitor at an office building. She still had six children at home, including James Leo, then 17. He had finished 7th grade and was working as a delivery boy.
Combined, they reported income of $551 the previous year — the equivalent of almost $10,000 in 2018. They worked hard for that pay. Apart from chores at home, Mrs. Conlin reported working 36 hours a week, while James Leo averaged 63 hours.
Almost six months after Maurice enlisted, James Leo joined the Navy in June 1940. He was followed the next June by his brother Bernard Eugene, and then in November 1941 by his brother Thomas.
Less than a month later, on Dec. 7, 1941, James Leo and Bernard Eugene were serving on the U.S.S. Arizona when they were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. James Leo, 19, was a fireman 2nd class. Bernard Eugene, 18, was a seaman 2nd class.
Maurice and Thomas survived World War II. Thomas went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam. At least two other sons, Paul and John, also served in the military.
James Leo was born June 8, 1922. Bernard Eugene was born Nov. 22, 1923. They attended St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas’ schools in Decatur, Illinois.
Sources: The Decatur Daily Review; The Decatur Herald; Census records; Navy muster rolls; grave markers; Veterans Affairs death file. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.