Reporter witnessed start of WWII, later became part of it

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- Betty McIntosh was at Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy 71 years ago when the Japanese attacked, plunging America into World War II.

She was a 26-year-old newspaper reporter when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. Today, at 97 years old, McIntosh still describes that morning as unreal. America was supposed to be at peace, and yet there she was with her notepad in the emergency room, seeing waves of the injured and dead -- one of them a little girl who died while jumping rope.

"The wooden handles were still there," McIntosh says. "It was kind of tragic to think about what she'd been doing a little while before."

McIntosh was assigned to write an eyewitness account for women, but her editor called it too graphic. The article sat for 71 years until the Washington Post learned of it and published it Sunday. In it, she describes how "bodies were laid on slabs" and how blood was "so bright red."

Pearl Harbor dead remembered on 71st anniversary
Newly-published report of Pearl Harbor attack

She thought women needed these facts, but her editor thought women were not ready.

"He felt they had to have something to cling to, I guess, to stay home and behave themselves or something. He was a typical man," says McIntosh. "We deserved to fight along with the men. It was our country and our families and our enemy and we wanted to be a part of it."

McIntosh certainly became part of it by leaving the paper and joining the wartime spy service OSS -- the Office of Strategic Services, which became the CIA. Her team of agents devised a fake pamphlet in Burma in which the emperor of Japan told his army to quit.

"And then I went to China to do the same thing," McIntosh says.

That's how she responded to the challenge of Pearl Harbor. Like everyone else in America, she instantly knew this was the fight that would change her life.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.