Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941 Plus 75 Years

“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press.  FLASH: Washington: The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”

WOR radio in New York made that report at 2:26 pm, interrupting the broadcast of a New York Giants baseball game.  At or near the same time, all other radio stations across the United States announced the attack to a stunned nation.  Suddenly the nation was plunged into war.  Everyone knows the speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt the following day asking Congress for a declaration of war.  Until December 7th, the United States was a spectator of a war raging in Europe and Asia.  We supplied arms and food to our allies, but we were not active participants.  Now we were completely immersed in the war we tried so hard not to enter.

The attack on December 7th destroyed much of the Pacific fleet at anchor.  The pride of the Navy, the USS Arizona, was destroyed.  An armor piercing bomb touched off the forward powder magazine causing an explosion that took the lives of 1,177 of its crew.   The Arizona was never fully salvaged.  The Navy recovered some of the dead, who are buried at the Punchbowl National Cemetery, but had to leave many more entombed in the Arizona. The remains of the Arizona were left as a war grave. 

It was not just naval base at Pearl Harbor that was attacked.  The Japanese attacked Wheeler, Kaneohe, Bellows and Hickam air fields, Schofield Barracks, Ford Island and Barber Point.  The objective was to destroy America’s ability to stop Japanese expansion.  As we know, that did not happen.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack, was against war with America. He had been stationed in America, attended Harvard, and admired America.  He knew our industrial might.  He was given assurances by his government that America would have some official notice of war before the attack.  When he later found out it was a surprise attack he was quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”  He knew Japan could not win a war with America. 

America suffered 2,403 dead, including 68 civilians in the December 7th surprise attack.  It will not be until September 11, 2001 that America will suffer even greater loss of life in a surprise terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and 4 hijacked passenger planes.  That totaled 2,996 dead. 

The Arizona Memorial was built on the remains of the USS Arizona and was opened on May 30, 1962. The Pearl Harbor Memorial Sites include the battleship USS Missouri (representing the end of the war), the WWII submarine USS Bowfin, the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, memorials to the USS Utah and Oklahoma, which were also left as war graves, and additional exhibits at the Visitors Center.  December 7, 2016 marked the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Your first view of the memorial is through the trees at the drop-off point outside the entrance to the memorial grounds.

The main entrance sign that shows that this is more than a memorial for the USS Arizona, but for two other ships that were lost and left where they sank.

This map shows the memorial center and what is on Ford Island. 

At the visitors center you can buy tickets to go aboard the USS Bowfin, a submarine that survived the war.

They have added a museum in the visitor’s center with items about the attack.  Here is memorabilia from the USS Arizona.

The entrance to building 2 of the museum has this painting showing a Kate torpedo plane attacking Battleship Row.

But when you turn around and look up, you see a model of the Kate bomber suspended overhead.

More memorabilia from December 7th is preserved on display.

A small piece of the salvaged portion of the USS Arizona.

The salvaged remains of one of the torpedoes dropped by the Japanese on December 7th.

Two of the anchors of the Arizona were blown completely off the ship.  This one is at the memorial visitor’s center.  The other is on display in Phoenix, the state capitol of Arizona.

Boats transport you from the Visitors Center to the actual Arizona Memorial, built upon the remains of the USS Arizona.

From shore or on the transport boat, you can view the beginning and the end of World War II.   It started on December 7, 1941 with the destruction of the Arizona and ended on the battleship moored behind it, the USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed the surrender documents on September 2, 1945.  Tours are available for the Missouri as well.

The most striking image a visitor sees of the memorial is how amazingly simple and elegant it is.

You can view a portion of the remains of the Arizona looking down through two openings, like this one.

The survivors of the Arizona made a pact that when they died, they would have their cremated remains returned to the Arizona to sleep eternally with their shipmates.  This, the Parks Service does with great reverence.

At the back of the memorial are the names of those who died on the Arizona on December 7th.  If you look to the lower left forward of the wall, you will see other names.  These are the names of the survivors who have been returned for their eternal slumber.

You may be lucky enough to see little globs of bunker fuel rise to the surface from the Arizona.  Not all the bunker fuel could be removed from the ship.  What remains slowly rises to the surface.  These, as you see above, are referred to as “the tears of the Arizona.”  This oil does not go very far as the Parks Service has a system to catch and recycle the oil before it can drift into the ocean.  There is enough fuel on board for the Arizona to mourn its dead for many decades to come.

“Old Glory” is raised over the remains of the Arizona every morning.

But if you look behind the flagpole, you will see a portion of the Arizona quietly rusting with a ladder leading down into her interior.

On any given day you may meet a Pearl Harbor survivor at the memorial.  This day Herb Weatherwax, a native Hawaiian and stationed at Schofield Barracks at the time of the attack, was there greeting visitors.  He was there selling his book, “Counting My Blessings.”  He is at the age where he uses a stamp with his signature to autograph the books.

There was a news report a few days before December 7th of this year on the veterans going to Pearl Harbor for the 75th Memorial.  That report said, if I heard correctly, there are few than 200 Pearl Harbor survivors left alive and only 2 survivors from the Arizona alive today.  In just 5 short years when we celebrate the 80th anniversary, there may be no one alive who was there on that fateful day.  Hopefully, we will continue to honor this day despite the fact that no participants will be alive to jog our collective memory.


Copyright © 2017  John J Campo

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