Battleship USS West Virginia sunk and burning at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In background is the battleship USS Tennessee. Photo: usswestvirginia.org
At 7:55 a.m. on December 7th, 1941, the United States was launched into World War 2. It was a typical Sunday morning at the Pearl Harbor U.S. naval base, when unexpectedly Battleship Row was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Though other attacks were launched against U.S. forces elsewhere (Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Malaysia, Singapore, Honk Kong), Pearl Harbor was geographically closest to the mainland, and as such, raised the most concern among American citizens.
Photo: (Wikipedia) Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Post Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.
The attack was too close for comfort - 2,471 miles from California, compared to battles in far off southeast Asia. Nevertheless, it was the surprise of the attack, which had a staggering shock effect on the U.S. people. The attack was led by 353 fighter planes and bombers, launched from 6 Japanese aircraft carriers. Battleship Row housed 8 battleships (USS Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Maryland), and other vessels, cruisers, and destroyers. U.S. fighter jets were launched in a counter move, but to no avail. Ships were bottled up in the harbor; some sank, entombing alive some of its crew members in the hull.
Photos: HistoryChannel.com "Tales of Pearl Harbor Heroics"
In total, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,335 officers and enlisted men of the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corp were killed, and 1,178 people were wounded. The Japanese forces lost 29 aircraft in the offensive and suffered 64 casualties. Though the damage was unprecedented, there were notable heroes:
- Doris "Dorie" Miller (U.S. Navy Messman Third Class)
- Samuel Fuqua (Rear Admiral)
- Peter Tomich (U.S. Navy Chief Wartender)
- George Welch (U.S. Army Fighter Corp Pilot) & Kenneth Taylor (U.S. Army Corp Second Lieutenant Pilot)
- John Finn (U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer)
- George Walters (Civilian dockyard worker)
- Edwin Hill (U.S. Navy Sailor)
- Phil Rasmussen (U.S. Army Air Corp Second Lieutenant)
The following day, December 8th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation, calling it "a day that would live in infamy," and declared war on Japan. As the U.S. took action, Nazi German and Italy declared war on the U.S. to which the U.S. responded.
Source: Associated Press (December 7, 2016): Pearl Harbor Survivors Marvin Rewerts, 89, right, Nelson Mitchell, 91, middle, walk with a wreath to place at the USS Arizona Memorial, as fellow survivor Darnel Rogers, 91, left, looks on, at the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremonies Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, in Phoenix. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Tensions between Japan and the U.S. had long been building. After the U.S.'s failed efforts to negotiate a withdrawal of Japanese military from China and Inodochina, Japan launched the attack. The reasoning behind the attack was in hopes of weakening the U.S.'s Pacific fleet, thereby diminishing the possibility of the U.S. interfering Japan's seizure of Southeast Asia. However, the U.S. used the attack on Pearl Harbor as propaganda throughout WW2 to fight and ultimately defeat the Axis Powers. It was empathically effective, because it centered on the emotional sting (anger) caused by what was described as a cowardly act, i.e. not fighting fair.
Photo source: (Reuters, Dec. 7, 2016) Jerry Yellin, a former captain and World War Two Army Air Force P-51 pilot, embraces Hiroya Sugano, director general of the Zero Fighter Admirers Club, during the 6th annual Blackened Canteen ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial, during the 75th Commemoration of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 6, 2016. US Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Somers Steelman/Handout via REUTERS
Unfortunately, throughout WW2, innocent Japanese-Americans were relocated to and incarcerated in camps in the western U.S. upon suspicion of being a threat to U.S. citizens. However, time has healed the wounds between Japanese and U.S. soldiers who once fought each other. Several organizations, including the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, were formed to ensure that survivors are honored annually. The outcome of WW2 can be read and viewed in libraries, veteran memorials and museums, as well as online.
Readers are encouraged to visit museums exhibiting official aircraft and sea vessels, as well as to travel to Oahu, HI and visit the USS Arizona Memorial for a humbling, emotional and educational experience.
FURTHER READING - Visit our MSE Library catalog for hundreds of books on Pearl Harbor.
For the most recently published books (i.e. our McNaughton Collection), please see All the Gallant Men: An American's Sailor's Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor, Stratton, D., & Gire, K. (2016).
Photo: USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Official Pearl Harbor Tour Site). The ship was bombed and finally exploded and sank. Casualties: 1,177 officers and crewmen.
FILM - View numerous documentaries and films on Kanopy Streaming.
Tora! Tora! Tora!, 1970.
History and Memory, Akiko Productions, 2008.
Pearl Harbor, Touchstone Pictures, 2001.
TOURIST INFORMATION - Official Pearl Harbor Tour Site
Doyle, Peter, World War II In Numbers: An Infographic Guide to the Conflict, Its Conduct, and Its Casualties. Richmond Hill: Firefly, 2013.
Lord, Walter, Day of Infamy: Illustrated with Photos. New York: Holt, 1957.
Pearl Harbor Casualties: Military and Civilian, Plus Casualties and Survivors of the U.S.S. Arizona. 2007. Bennington, Vt: Merriam Press.
Prange, Gordon W., Donald M Goldstein, and Katherine V Dillon. At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
Spiller, Harry, Pearl Harbor Survivors: An Oral History of 24 Servicemen. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002.
Wohlstetter, Roberta, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962.
White, Geoffrey M. 2016. Memorializing Pearl Harbor: unfinished histories and the work of remembrance. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822374435.
Zimm, Alan. Attack On Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions. Havertown: Casemate, 2011.
For actual damage inflicted on U.S. and Japanese vessels, see Attack on Pearl Harbor, by Zimm, pp. 228-29. For a quick look at other vessels docked at Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor, Oahu, HI: