Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941- A Date That Will Live In Infamy

In spite of increasing tensions in the Pacific, and over two years of war in Europe, the morning of December 7, 1941 found the Navy, Army, Army Air Forces and Marines at Pearl Harbor and various installations across Oahu enjoying the usual peacetime Sunday routine, with many men on liberty or pass, and others just stirring for Morning Colors.

The peace and quiet were shattered by an enormous raid by the splendidly trained carrier pilots of the Kido Butai. From just before 8am to around 9:30am, a total of 353 Japanese warplanes ravaged ships, airfields, and installations throughout the island, most famously devastating the ships of Battleship Row, gutting the heart of the Pacific Fleet. Of 390 US aircraft on the island that morning, over three hundred would be destroyed or damaged.

Two thousand and forty-two American sailors, soldiers and Marines died in the perfidious attack. Another fourteen hundred were wounded. The single largest loss of life would come with the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona early in the attack. The explosion of her magazines shattered her, sank her, and killed a stunning 1,177 sailors.

The US had a decidedly isolationist sentiment in the years leading to the attack. Even as America slowly came to rearm in the face of the European war and an expansionist Japan, there was little public support for joining the great conflagration beyond our shores.

That sentiment ended abruptly with the Japanese attack. The American people would become united in a campaign to visit vengeance, retribution and retaliation upon Japan. As Yamamoto had predicted, Japan had awakened a sleeping giant. It had sown the wind, and within three and a half years, it would reap the whirlwind.

The USS Arizona came to symbolize the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our first major loss of the war, she went down with her colors flying, and guns firing. She was never decommissioned, and never stricken from the Naval Register. Every day, a color guard raises the colors of this still serving warship. And every day, Americans visit the memorial built across her hull, to pay tribute to those who rest the eternal rest within her shattered hull. Oil from her bunkers still slowly seeps into the waters of the harbor, as if the mighty ship weeps for the sacrifice of so many.

*Update- changed “day” to “date” in the title. I *knew* what FDR said in his address, but my fingers this morning didn’t, and Mr. Coffee wasn’t there to correct them.

5 thoughts on “Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941- A Date That Will Live In Infamy”

  1. I visited Hawaii in 2009 (lovely place) and we took a day trip to Pearl Harbour. Found the Arizona memorial very moving and eerie, especially when you can still see the oil slowly seeping out into the water. Was virtually silent as us tourists wandered about.
    I’d also add to your post, about Japan waking the sleeping giant – what did Hitler gain from allying with Japan? If he’d left it alone, would the USA have been content with slapping down Japan and leaving the old world to its problems? Always wondered about that.

    1. I think the consensus is that Hitler was hoping that by declaring war on the US and drawing us into a two-front war Japan would return the favor with the USSR.

    2. Might be the case. Hard to tell with Hitler. Having read as much as I could get my hands on while I lived in Germany (some even in German since I was proficient at the time) I’m still not sure what was going through Hitler’s mind. He saw the Japs as an ally, but they had already made the decision to go south before they hit us. I don’t think the Japs told him about it. At the same time, he didn’t seem to want to get us aroused. Like so many things about Hitler, it doesn’t seem clear what he was thinking.

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