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Pearl Harbor Day: A Tragedy with a Legacy of Heroism

‎12-04-2013 02:59 PM

Pearl Harbor memorial in Washington, D.C.Dec. 7, 1941, was a peaceful Sunday morning on the island paradise of Oahu. Thousands of American service members were just waking, cleaning up for church services or heading off for a day of R&R at the beach. Just before 8 a.m., the explosions started. When the Japanese onslaught stopped almost two hours later, more than 2,400 Americans were dead.


More than 70 years later, a dwindling few survivors remain to share their firsthand memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As their numbers decline, the nation’s commitment to remember that day grows ever more important. The anniversary is formally recognized as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. And though Congress didn’t officially observe the day until 1994, Dec. 7 has always been known, in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s terms, as “a date which will live in infamy.”


A Prelude to War


While the Pearl Harbor attack caught American forces off guard, the buildup to that fateful day had begun years earlier. For more than a decade, Japan had aggressively sought to seize political and military control over China, and by 1937 the two nations were engaged in an all-out war. The U.S. disapproved of Japan’s imperialistic plans, curtailing and eventually halting trade with the Japanese. As Japan’s power-grabbing strategy spread into Southeast Asia, it appeared that military intervention from the United States was imminent.


To discourage further Japanese aggression, Roosevelt moved the Navy’s Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Hawaii. The Navy was prepared to move into action if the Japanese launched an offensive against several targeted Asian nations. What U.S. officials never expected was that the assault would come to them.


Two waves of Japanese bombers and fighters – more than 350 planes launched from aircraft carriers in the Pacific – descended upon Pearl Harbor with unrelenting force and calculated precision. The surprise attack decimated the Pacific Fleet, sinking four of the eight battleships stationed in the harbor, destroying other massive ships and taking out hundreds of U.S. aircraft.


The strike was intended to prevent the U.S. from interfering in Southeast Asia, while issuing a devastating blow to American morale. But history would have it otherwise.


Fighting Back


For several years prior, the U.S. government had debated whether to enter the escalating global conflict provoked by Germany, Italy and Japan. But now, shocked and enraged by the premeditated attack, the American people supported retaliation with near-unanimous fervor. The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan, effectively launching the country into World War II. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on America, and the largest military confrontation in history approached its boiling point.


The name Pearl Harbor will be forever tied to tragedy. But as the flag flies at half-staff each Dec. 7, Americans can also take pride in what occurred that day and the years that followed. Fifteen Medals of Honor and dozens of other commendations were bestowed upon American service members for their selfless heroism during the attack. As the nation banded together in war, America reminded the world of its resilience, its sense of responsibility and its resolve to fight for what is right.


USAA salutes the veterans who were lost at Pearl Harbor, the ones who lived on and the generations of service members who have followed in their footsteps. 



by DVC1 ‎12-07-2013 09:35 AM

I was born in January of 1943.  My older sister was born on Pearl Harbor Day. My uncle served on Corrigidor and endured the Bataan Death March.  He spent the rest of the War in Japanese prison and work camps. When he was liberated, he was re-united with his older brother at Pearl Harbor and weighed less than 100 lbs. The base commander met my uncle departing from the ship when he arrived, with my Dad, gave them his jeep for the day to tour the island and enjoy their liberty. He shared the unspeakable ordeal with my father only and died in his 50's from the ravages of that war. When my father and uncle returned home together they came into my little bedroom in their uniforms and asked me which one was my father.  I picked my uncle the lasting family story that has become dear to me.  May God bless all those families who loved and lost, and gave their lives to us and built a better future.  May we learn to appreciate what they did, what history reveals about good and evil, and embrace the good with thankful hearts.


David Crowe

by William Robert Jones ‎12-21-2013 07:10 AM



Thank you for the great piece.  I can add little to it. I buried my father at ANC this past November.  I am retired Navy.  What you wrote expressed my  thoughts as I walked behind my father's caisson to the four beat funeral dirge. 


There is a knee weakening sense of gratitude that thoughtful people feel when they contemplate the sacrifice and service of military families.  It can be nearly incomprehendable. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all service members (My father's habitual greeting on his Christmas cards).

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