Today, December 7, is known as Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S. On this date, in 1941, the Japaneses attacked the Pacific Ocean fleet at the Pearl Harbor Naval base in the Hawaiian Islands. This early morning bombing mission, unprovoked and without any warning, led to this country entering into World War II. The photograph above shows the memorial above where the USS Arizona sank on that day.
Up until the early morning of December 7, 1941, the U.S. had remained neutral in the global conflict between the Allied nations and the Axis war-powers (Germany, Italy and Japan). For the overwhelming majority of the people in this country, there was no need for this nation to become involved in the war that was being waged so very far away.
An isolationist sentiment overcame this country following World War I. This belief was further enhanced by the stock market crash in 1929 and the suffering of the Great Depression which followed.
The atrocities of World War II did little to compromise the isolationist tendencies of most of the citizens here. In their minds, no direct threats to the U.S. were on the horizon and most felt no reason for this country to abandon neutrality.
The unwarranted Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, changed that belief in neutrality for the majority of the U.S. population. The destruction of the Pacific battleship fleet and the deaths of naval, air corps and civilian personnel angered the general population and political leadership.
The surprise action against the air corps and navy had a devastating effect on neutrality. A total of 2,403 U.S. service members were killed. The wounded naval and air service men totaled 1,178. Six naval battleships were sunk or destroyed and the air corps lost a total of 169 planes.
As the bombing occurred on a Sunday morning, a number of naval and air corps personnel were off duty and were enjoying themselves away from their assigned stations. Otherwise, the numbers dead or wounded could have been much higher.
I have read a number of recollections from air and naval service members who were assigned to Pearl Harbor at that time. Almost all recalled that Sunday morning of being away from their designated facilities and planning a day of relaxation on the beaches and other island waterways. They reacted with both disbelief and shock when seeing multitudes of warplanes flying over them and then depositing bombs over either the naval facility or the air corps facility.
Most of the astounded men told of hastily returning to their stations and confronted with chaos, confusion and destruction. There was one individual who remembered skinny-dipping with civilian friends at a water site near the naval base of Pearl Harbor. He was almost back at his naval location when he suddenly realized that he had left in haste without putting his clothing back on! No one, not even his naval superiors bothered to even question his nudity!
The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 8, 1941, saw President Franklin Delano Roosevelt address a joint session of both houses (chambers) of the Congress. In his address, he asked the approval of a declaration of war between the U.S. and the Empire of Japan. Within hours of his speech, Roosevelt was granted the authority and war became reality.
For many years after the ending of World War II, a memorial service was held at Pearl Harbor to honor all those naval, air corps and civilian deaths that happened on December 7, 1941. This event also marked a return of many of those who survived the bombing. Unfortunately, the aging process has brought an end to official survival events. A memorial service is still conducted on-site every year.
Above: Naval personnel salute the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor.
I feel that it is important that we all both honor and remember the thousands of individuals who lost their lives on that day. They did nothing to antagonize their attackers but they surrendered their lives in the service of others.