On December 7, 1941, Japanese air and naval forces launched a surprise morning attack on the United State’s naval base located in Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. More than 350 fighters, bombers and torpedoes descended on the base at 7:55 a.m. and continued their assault on American forces until 9:45 a.m. All-in-all, 2,386 Americans lost their lives that day (of which approximately 48-68 were civilians), with 1,139 wounded.
All eight of the U.S. Navy’s battleships were damaged, sinking 4 of them. Amazingly, all but two (the Arizona and the Oklahoma) were eventually returned to active duty.
- Arizona (exploded)
- Oklahoma (capsized)
- West Virginia (sunk)
- California (sunk)
This attack on Pearl Harbor was a turning point in World War II, because up until then, American participation had been virtually non-existent. In fact, an overwhelming majority of citizens did not want to get involved. However, all of that changed after the news of the attack spread and the United States declared war on Japan on the following day with President Roosevelt’s now famous “Infamy Speech.”
As I’ve mentioned before, my son, Jude, is a fan of military history. From trying to understand the political motivations behind the military action to listening to the stories of the men and women who served, once he finds a topic he is interested in, he devours it. This time of year, I always try to make sure we pay less attention to the political side and horror show of war, and listen harder to the stories of the veterans themselves.
With fewer veterans that were alive and serving in World War II left to tell their tale, I think one of the greatest honors – and biggest gifts we can give our children – is to keep their spirit and stories alive. While researching some things to share with Jude this weekend, I uncovered some really heart-warming stories and interesting facts you may not know of “the date that shall live in infamy.”
- The USS Arizona continues to leak approximately 2-9 quarts of oil into Pearl Harbor each day. At the time of the bombing, the ship had just taken on 1.5 million gallons of oil contributing to the explosion that destroyed the ship and allowed it to burn for 2 1/2 days after the attack. Recent reports estimate that the Arizona contians approximately 500,000 more gallons of fuel in its hull.
- Only a small handful of pilots were able to help defend Pearl Harbor from the skies, since nearly all of their planes were destroyed in the intial blasts. Service men and women took to shooting at Japanese pilots from the ground in hopes of defending the harbor.
- Lt. Annie Fox was the first woman to recieve the Purple Heart for her heroic actions during and after the attack. However, it’s important to note that at the time receiving the Purple Heart didn’t require you were injured in the line of duty. It was awarded for “outsanding performance of duty and meritorious actos of extraordinary fidelity.” After the requirements for the medal were changed, she was awarded the Bronze Star for her actions.
- 23 sets of brothers died aboard the USS Arizona. According to History.com, 77 men, some pairs or trios of brothers, served aboard the ship. Of these, 62 were killed. After Pearl Harbor, U.S. officials attempted to thwart the practice of family members serving together on the same ship, but because no official regulations were established, hundreds of brothers had fought and died together.
- Pilot Henry Heim was only 22 was writing a letter to his brother when the attack began. Just as he ran to his post in one of the base hangars, a bomb blasted through the building, knocking him out. “When I come to, I was on all fours, crawling along the wall,” he said. “Blood was coming out of somewhere. It scared me to death. I thought I was dying.” Even wounded, he grabbed a machine gun and ran outside, shooting at Japanese aircraft from the ground.
- When Wallace Doble was 11, he had a dream he was standing on the deck of a ship as a Japanese bomber plane flew past. The pilot flew close enough that Doble could look him in the eye. He waved. When the pilot didn’t wave back, Doble cursed at him and woke up. 6 years later, he found himself on the deck of the USS Tangier when a Japanese fighter pilot flew by – just like in his dream.
- Bill Wagner was stationed aboard the USS Solace, a war-time hospital ship, when the Japanese attacked. He watched as aircraft destroyed the USS Utah and Battleship Row. He stood helpless as he watched the USS Arizona take the direct hit and explode, killing hundreds. Sailors who had jumped overboard or found themselves in the hostile waters of the Pacific, now were floating in thick, burning petroleum. Wagner had the horrific task of pulling these burning, struggling survivors to the saftey of the Solace.
These are just three of the hundreds of stories I read through. One of the greatest repositories for stories online is found on the Pacific Historic Parks Vimeo site. It’s so amazing to hear the stories from the veterans themselves.
It’s imperative that we continue to honor those service men and women who lived and died on Pearl Harbor Day, through stories or history lessons. We cannot forget all that they did, and it’s through their stories and their experiences they will continue to live on. As poet and essayist George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”