The Date That Will Live in Infamy: The Attack on Pearl Harbor

The Date That Will Live in Infamy: The Attack on Pearl Harbor

Sunday, December 7, 1941 began as a normal day in paradise for the American service members stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Most of the sailors and soldiers were still sleeping or just rising with the sun that morning. No one expected that in a few short hours, their lives would be irrevocably changed.

At 7:55 AM the first wave of Japanese fighter planes filled the dazzling blue Hawaiian sky. The peace was shattered by rat-tat-tat machine gun fire and earsplitting explosions as bombs and torpedoes rained down on the unsuspecting harbor below. Battleship row bore the brunt of the attack, with the USS Arizona so utterly devastated that it sank to the harbor floor within nine minutes, taking 1,177 souls with it.

The assault was relentless, with a second deadly wave of 170 Japanese planes dropping even more ordnance an hour later. The navy men who usually manned the anti-aircraft guns were caught completely unaware. Most of the American planes on the airfields were positioned side by side – easy targets for destruction.

When the last Japanese fighter winged away at 9:45 AM, utter devastation was left its wake. 2,403 Americans lost their lives, nearly half of them from the Arizona alone. Another 1,178 were wounded. Key infrastructure and critical military equipment was decimated. Drydocks, hangers, airplanes, and fuel tanks were demolished. But worst of all was the sinking or damage of 19 ships – including 8 enormous battleships that formed the power of the Pacific fleet. It was a blow from which many thought the U.S. navy could never recover.

In the aftermath, as fires still raged and the and the capsized USS Oklahoma oozed oil, it was immediately clear that a very large intelligence failure had occurred at Pearl Harbor one that cost many servicemen their lives. A Congressional investigation would later show that there were many warning signs that were ignored.

For the men who survived and their loved ones back home reeling from shock, December 7, 1941 was truly “a date which will live in infamy.” Out of the rubble, 2,400 innocent Americans perished for no reason other than coming to work on an ordinary Sunday morning. However, from that rubble also rose a fighting spirit and national unity that endured all the way through WWII and into the present day.

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