Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pearl Harbor: The Alpha and Omega of U.S. Involvement in World War II


He caught my eye as he shuffled along bent double over his cane hearing aids in each ear. He stopped, looked up, and began to cry. "I'm sorry. I can't help it," he said in a rasping voice. "I haven't been been back here in 70 years. It's just so hard to remember." As he cried, the old man's daughter hugged him and said, "It's all right, Dad." Those of us within earshot stopped in our tracks knowing we were in the presence of someone great. This old man is one of the few surviving military men who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor and is still here to tell about it. We were standing on the Arizona Memorial, pictured above. I was overcome with emotion as I listened to the old man and realized what he had lived through. Then I saw the wall with the names of the 1,117 sailors now entombed in the USS Arizona, a battleship left where it sank on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Arizona Memorial is built over the top of it. As I peered into the oily water, I realized I was standing above a cemetery of sorts. It was a very sobering moment.

Remains of the battleship Arizona, now the tomb of 1,117 sailors.
Pearl Harbor got its name from the Hawaiians who called it "waters of pearl" because oysters containing pearls could be harvested in the harbor. It was believed to be the home of the shark goddess, Kaʻahupahau, and her brother  Kahiʻuka. By the late 1800s, the United States wanted to have a presence in the Pacific Ocean, and in 1887, the United States Senate gave the Navy permission to lease Pearl Harbor and establish a naval base. The harbor was shallow so the navy dredged it in order that large ships could be docked there. When the Japanese invaded China in the 1930s, concerns arose as to their intentions. As a result, the United States expanded its military operations in Pearl Harbor. Prior to World War II in addition to the naval presence, there were also army and air bases on the island. By having a military presence in the Pacific, it was believed that the western coast of the United States would be protected from attack.

Early Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, things were quiet on Pearl Harbor.  Radar was new to the military and one of the radar operators saw a large fleet of aircraft headed for the island. He quickly notified his superior who said not to worry, they were U.S. airplanes that were expected. Sadly, this was not the case. As the Japanese headed for their attack on Pearl Harbor, there were 96 U.S. war ships anchored and 224 airplanes parked wing tip to wing tip because of a fear of local sabotage. In the first wave of the attack, there were 183 Japanese airplanes. About an hour later another 167 Japanese planes arrived. Because the American planes were not ready for take-off, only 31 were able to become airborne. And of the 350 Japanese aircraft, only 29 were shot down. By the end of the attack, about 2,400 Americans were dead with another 1,200 wounded. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. (The text of his speech can be found at the end of this blog entry.) To this day Americans speak of December 7, 1941 as a date which lives in infamy.

The anchor recovered from the USS Arizona
A direct hit on the USS Arizona resulted in an enormous explosion that was so powerful it threw the anchor (shown above) more than 200 feet into the harbor. The anchor itself weighs 19,500 pounds and each link of the chain attached to it weighs 100 pounds. Imagine the force required to move something that heavy more than 200 feet!

The wreckage of the USS Arizona

You can see oil on the water in the photo above. It is leaking from the remains of the Arizona all these 70 years since the attack. It is becoming an environmental problem. No one knows how much fuel is still inside. The situation is being monitored but no decisions have been made about how to address the problem.

The Arizona Memorial--there are 7 viewing ports on each side of the memorial and seven above. What is 7 + 7 + 7 and why is this important? It represents a 21 gun salute, a military practice used to honor the dead.
This wall contains a listing of everyone who died on the USS Arizona in the Pearl Harbor attack. When you see that many names all at once, it makes you realize what a huge sacrifice these men made. 
USS Missouri Battleship now permanently based in Pearl Harbor
While Europe had been involved in World War II since 1939, the United States did not enter the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Part of the Allied Forces, the U.S. fought in both the European Theater and the Pacific Theater. War in Europe ended May 8, 1945 when Germany surrendered. War against Japan continued until the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. Japan admitted defeat and agreed to an unconditional surrender. That means no ifs, ands, or buts. The formal surrender ceremony took place on September 2, 1945 on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (Japan). For security purposes there were 270 war ships in Tokyo Bay and 1000 US aircraft nearby. General Douglas MacArthur served as Master of Ceremony while Admirals Halsey and Nimitz signed the surrender documents for the United States. The Japanese signed, too. The entire ceremony lasted only 23 minutes. World War II was finally ended. It is estimated that about 60,000,000 people lost their lives in the six years of fighting. What an enormous loss.

This plaque set into the deck of the USS Missouri commemorates the surrender ceremony.
Copies of the surrender documents are kept in a case on the USS Missouri.
There is interesting information on this plaque that is affixed to the USS Missouri. Click on the photograph to enlarge it so that you can read what it says.

President Franklin Roosevelt's Speech, December 8, 1941

          Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
          The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
          It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
          The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
          Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
          Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
          As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
          Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
          I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
          Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
          With confidence in our armed forces--with the unbounded determination of our people--we will gain the inevitable triumph--so help us God.
          I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."

3 comments:

Rach said...

Wow. Just wow. What a moment for that old man to have been there with you all at that moment. Amazing.

What a post. Thank you.

Kelly said...

This is very powerful information. Thanks for sharing, Melissa!

joy said...

How special to have been there at that moment. Amazing...