Novemeber 22, 2002
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, carrier-based Japanese airplanes launched a surprise, devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military installations in Hawaii, wreaking unprecedented damage and killing hundreds of American sailors, Marines and soldiers. The unexpected assault left this country with virtually no defense in the Pacific Ocean area. Some felt the imperial Japanese army could easily have stormed ashore on the U.S. West Coast and captured such strategic cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. For reasons that are unclear, that did not happen, but the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II as a very belligerent partner of the Allies in Europe. On the next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress and angrily asked for a declaration of war against the Japanese, Germans and Italians, lumped together as "the Axis powers." This country and its teeming population were changed forever.
In his address, President Roosevelt spoke of America's losses in the treachery. He called it "a day that will live in infamy," and to some extent it is still remembered that way. But that was more than sixty years ago. Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and other engagements have occurred since then, and those whose lives were directly affected by the World War II era are dwindling rapidly. Statisticians tell us that at least 1,000 veterans of World War II are now dying each day, and that figure will only go higher as time goes by. Someday soon, the attack on Pearl Harbor may be recalled only by reading history or seeing dramatizations.
I remember December 7, 1941, very well, and I know how that day impacted my life and those of my contemporaries. It awakened all of us to this country's new role as a super power in world affairs, a realization that we are a world neighborhood and not a collection of unrelated ethnic and religious groups. Like it or not, we could no longer afford the luxury of isolationist policies. Things that happened to remote nations (Kuwait, Afghanistan, et al) were serious issues for this country to debate and to take appropriate action.
My own recollection of Pearl Harbor day is like a short subject at the movies. When the attack on the Hawaiian islands began (about 8 a.m., Honolulu time) it was shortly after 12 noon on a Sunday in Perry. With Hugh Lobsitz, Charlie Lamb and one or two other friends, we met after church and went to Brownie's Drug Store on the west side of the square for Cokes before heading to our homes for Sunday dinner. The noon news was just starting on the radio, and the announcement of the attack brought back memories of the Orson Welles Mercury Theater radio dramatization of "The War of the Worlds," a few years earlier, when many Americans were frightened into thinking alien creatures from Mars had landed in New Jersey. But we knew what we were hearing that Sunday was the real thing, and so we went to our homes to be with our families.
Nothing was the same for us after that. We knew it was just a matter of time before we were called to duty in some branch of military service, so plans that we had been making for the future were put on hold for the duration. I have invited a few friends to share with the rest of us what they remember about December 7, 1941, and the effects of that sad day on their lives. You will be seeing their accounts in this space during the next few days.