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.