Born on the ‘Day of Infamy’: Destin resident’s life intertwined with attack on Pearl Harbor

Jacob Fuller
While most of the nation was terrified by the attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Michael Susman's mother was giving birth to him in a hospital in Dalton, Ga. Saturday is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Dec. 7, 1941, was an important day for everyone, as Japanese pilots attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor. For Main Street Signs owner Michael Susman, it had an even greater significance. That was the day he was born.

Susman, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, was one of only two babies born that day in Whitfield County, Ga. As was the custom at the time, his mother stayed in the hospital for several days after his birth.

"They didn't tell her about the war for a week," Susman told The Log.

There were few families on earth who were not greatly impacted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Susmans were no exception. Michael said nearly all of the men in his family served in the military during the war.

For his family who still lived in Europe, things were far worse. After the war, some of Susman's relatives researched records to try to find their loved ones who had remained in Europe when Susman's grandfather moved to the United States. They found that every one of them had died in Nazi concentration camps.

Like most who lived in Dalton, Ga., Susman's family was in the carpet business. He lived there until 2001, when he and his wife moved to Destin and opened a rug business. Within a year, their son Jeff followed suit and moved to the Emerald Coast.

Largely because his birthday marks the beginning of the United States' involvement in WWII, Susman has felt a strong connection to the events of the war throughout his life. His wife, Gayle, said she thinks he has read every book ever written on the war. For years, Susman tried to find a newspaper from the day he was born. He was unable, until soon after he and his wife moved to Destin.

They were at an antique shop in DeFuniak Springs when he saw a stack of old newspapers.

"I reached down and got as many as I could grab in one hand and raised it up. There was the newspaper from Dec. 7, 1941, in Honolulu," Susman said. "I bought it and framed it."

After selling the rug business, Susman bought Main Street Signs, which he owns and operates with his son. His son does most of the work now, though. Susman was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012 and is undergoing daily treatments for the disease.

"It's from years of smoking, which I learned in Boy Scouts," Susman said. "We would go camping, huddle around the fire and smoke cigarettes, thinking it would keep us warm."

Though his birthday was also a day of mourning for many Americans, it wasn't a somber occasion for Susman growing up. A close friend of Susman always helped lighten the mood.

"Every morning of my birthday, the phone would ring. It was Western Union. They'd say, 'We have a telegram for Michael Susman," he said. "It would say, 'Congratulations on our finest victory. - Admiral Yamamoto.'"