On December 7, 1941, at 7:48 am, a flight of Japanese torpedo bombers, from 6 carriers, crossed over Oahu and attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet 'hiding' in Pearl Harbor. The navy leadership felt that they would be protected anchored around Ford Island inside Pearl Harbor. They were wrong. Before the second flight of dive bombers arrived after 8:15 am, the USS Arizona took a lethal hit from a bomb that immediately ignited its powder room and exploded, killing 1177 sailors on board. Within 90 minutes the raid on Pearl was over. Pearl Harbor signaled the entry of the U.S. into WWII, with President FDR stating at the end of his address to America on December 8 that "a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."
Fortunately, the Japanese held off a third wave of planes so the shipyards and oil depots were spared. This allowed the Americans to rebuild quickly all but two of the ships to return to fight in the Pacific War. Three U.S. aircraft carriers were out on training exercises so escaped destruction. Within four months of this attack (18 April 42), 16 U.S. B-25 Mitchell bombers launched from the carrier USS Hornet bombed Tokyo and 6 months after Pearl, the U.S. fleet destroyed 4 of the 6 Japanese carriers from Pearl in the battle of Midway. Because the U.S. broke the Japanese code the U.S. was able to anticipate an ambush at sea. Historians have noted that the Battle of Midway (4-7 June 42) was the most stunning and decisive blow in naval warfare.
We visited the USS Arizona memorial for the first time since the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor was completed. There are 22 stations that one can hear described on a headphone to learn the events surrounding the events leading to December 7, 1941. We used the headphones. The 10-ton anchor from the Arizona was blown 300 yards away by the explosion. It was a solemn moment standing on the platform above the sunken hull of the Arizona. The open air platform has a wall of remembrance with all those who perished carved into the stone. Separately, all deaths of shipmates who died after the war are also memorialized on a separate stone.
It is a very different feeling standing on the platform (at this watery grave site than stone monuments in a cemetery) and looking down at the rusting hull and looking at the base of the #3 gun turret and imagining what happened there 75+ years ago. For me, the back stories about what led up to the attack keeps me interested in history. What I hope is that our intelligence community is on alert to watch for any future threats to our sovereignty. It's a new world 75 years older with new ways to demoralize, create chaos, and even destroy a country.
On September 2, 1945, the Pacific War ended on the deck of the USS Missouri (Big Mo) in Tokyo Bay where General of the Army and Supreme Commander of Allied Powers Douglas McArthur signed the surrender documents for the United States, followed by the 8 allied nations and Japan. Fittingly the Big Mo is now anchored next to the USS Arizona memorial -- site of the beginning and the end of the Pacific War for us.
© Dr. Baldwin H. Tom CMC, FIMC