In the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, the American military base in Honolulu, Hawaii, experienced a surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Japan had hoped that this attack would prevent the United States from expanding its influence in the Pacific. But it had the opposite effect. It galvanized our country to action.
More than 2,000 Americans were killed and another thousand were injured. The attack sank or damaged 21 U.S. warships; more than 150 planes were destroyed. Japanese forces also suffered losses of men and armaments.
Lists of American casualties from all branches of service are online at nps.gov/valr/learn/historyculture/military-casualties.htm.
The USS Arizona suffered the most casualties (1,177), including 23 sets of brothers and one father-son pair. That battleship also lost its entire band, the only time in American history that all members of a military band died in action.
Today there is a memorial atop (but not touching) this battleship where it sank. It is the final resting place of over 900 sailors and Marines as their remains could not be recovered. See this website for a list of casualties — nps.gov/valr/learn/historyculture/ussarizonacasualties.htm.
It was christened in 1914 and joined the war efforts in 1918. It escorted President Wilson home after he signed the Treaty of Versailles.
While docked at Long Beach, California, in 1933, crew members helped restore order after an earthquake. The ship was then sent to Barcelona to rescue Americans who had been caught up in Spain’s civil war.
When a national emergency was declared in 1940, the USS Oklahoma was ordered to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On Sunday, Dec. 7, it was anchored on battleship row and most of the crew was on board and the flag had been raised. Eleven minutes after the first torpedo hit the USS Oklahoma, it capsized and 429 men (14 Marines and 415 sailors) went down with their ship.
It was hit with nine torpedoes and capsized. Banging could be heard for three days, and then there was silence. The ship could not be salvaged. If you are a descendant of one of those men, visit website nps.gov/valr/uss-oklahoma-casualties-identified.htm.
Many of the casualties could not be identified and were laid to rest as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Over the years, a few have been exhumed, identified and returned to family members for burial with full military honors.
Fifteen sailors (from seaman to rear admiral) and one Marine received the Medal of Honor, 11 posthumously.
Every year and in different ways, the United States honors those who died and were injured. Some communities hold special memorial services and wreath-laying ceremonies, have keynote speeches by members or guests of those organizations associated with the event or recall stories by the dwindling number of survivors.
And the U.S. flag is always flown at half-staff.
In his address before a joint session of Congress the day after this attack, President Roosevelt called for a formal declaration of war against Japan and declared that Dec.7, 1941, would be “a date which will live in infamy.” And so it has.