Eighty Years

December 7, 1941.

Others will pen more eloquent tributes and meditations on the events of that day. But on December 7, 1991, I observed that “This is Pearl Harbor day.” And a fellow college student said, in complete honesty, “What’s that?” She truly did not know the significance of the day or the anniversary. At that moment, my interests, my major, and other things took a hard turn, leading to a decision to do whatever I could to ensure that my generation knew, truly knew, what WWII meant, and why warbirds, floating museums, and other things were important, and that they were real, not made-up stories. In a way, it led to my being where I am, doing what I do, to keep the past alive. I am two steps from Pearl, fewer if you count my having gotten to meet and to hear Gabby Gabreski and others who where there.

Today isn’t for “What if’s” and “We now know that . . .” No, it is to remember the day and the moments, the feelings at the time, the men who fought the fires, who tried to defend their ships and bases, who lost comrades and kin, and the civilians who did what they could in the aftermath of the attack.

Fair Use from: Diginewshub.com. The USS Shaw exploding.
https://pearlharborwarbirds.com/jaw-dropping-color-photos-of-pearl-harbor/ A selection of images from the attack and aftermath. We tend to forget that color film was available, just rare and expensive.

27 thoughts on “Eighty Years

  1. Growing up on Oahu, this day was always important. The dad of our back neighbor was a civilian contract at the Pearl Harbor shipyard. He told stories of the day, showing us g he burn scars from pulling sailors from g he burning water. He wasn’t even supposed to be there that day. He had come in to use the shop tools for a project. He made the events real. He was n not the only person I knew who had been there, but his stories were the most vivid.

  2. I guarantee my family never forgets Pearl Harbor. My father, two uncles, and an uncle and aunt by marriage all served in the Pacific theater during WW2 (the aunt was an army nurse). One uncle lost a leg to a kamekazi, We kids heard very few stories about the war, unless the stories were funny. Mostly we were grateful that we didn’t lose any family members to the war.

  3. I Will Not Start A Rant About The “WOKES” Views On WW2 And The Japanese Attack. 😡

    (Not enough coffee to get into that.)

    • Remember, the distribution of intelligence in the human population is represented by a bell curve ( for every genius there is an idiot).

  4. I retired to Astoria, OR, and was there when the USS Missouri was towed into the harbor, and go to go aboard (deck, only), I was born and raised in Missouri.

  5. December 7th, 1941 was one of those few times, when the world changed in a single day. On December 6th Americans were going about their lives, most recovering from the great depression, in part due to a influx of military orders from England, and her allies. Those who were aware of events, felt that eventually we would be drawn into the war as England’s ally, but for the moment, the war was ‘over there.’ On December 8th America was at war with Japan, High School students like my dad knew they would be drafted upon graduation unless they volunteered, and everything was instantly shifting to a wartime footing, Two days later, in one of the worst strategic decisions ever, Hitler declared war on the United States. To quote Winston Churchill after the Pearl Harbor attack, “I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved.”

  6. Same with my dad. He was out of HS and at work, then enlisted before being drafted.

    Makes you wonder if the magnitude of the reaction (not reaction itself) would have differed, had the Japanese Ambassador presented the ultimatum on time at noon EST (7 am HST). A state of war existing a half hour or so before the attacks is different from a sneak attack while technically still at peace. I’ve read Prange’s book and some of the declassified sources cited in it. Not going down the conspiracy rabbit hole, just thinking about the wrangling over being caught with your guard down at the forward fleet anchorage, after the other guy tells you the fight is on.

    • There were too many people who thought the Japanese were funny-looking, yellow-skinned people who still lived in the 18tth Century. wrong. I hope we don’t make the same mistake with the Chinese.

      • Huh?

        Most Americans in the Highest Levels of the US government were aware that Japan wasn’t funny-looking, yellow-skinned people who still lived in the 18tth Century.

        They were aware that earlier Japan has “beat the pants off of the Russians”.

        They were aware of the garbage that Japan was doing in China.

        Yes, they took actions short of war to show the American disapproval of Japan’s actions in China.

        Japan deserved such actions but decided to attack the US.

        Stop making excuses for Japan.

        • A number of military leaders still had trouble believing the reports about Japanese technology being as good as it was, despite the reports by the Flying Tigers (AVG) and others. The US civil leadership yes, but reading the newspapers and so on from 1936-40, I got the sense that a decent number of ordinary people thought, “Yeah, the Japanese are beating up on the poor, innocent, harmless Chinese, but that’s different from beating up on the US or England or . . . ” That popular sense was shifting in 1941, but hadn’t fully flipped to accepting Japan as a military equal.

          Again, this is based on reading newspapers and other stuff, so it may be skewed somewhat.

          • Very true that the quality of Japanese weaponry was a surprise — especially the Japanese Navy’s aircraft and the “long lance” torpedo. We had a superior fighter to the Zero within a year, but never matched the long lance.

            Beyond that, there’s a peculiar dichotomy that runs through all the “combat journal” books I’ve read about the Pacific War. On the one hand there is respect for the Japanese fighting ability and a refusal to sell them short, especially among the American pilots and naval crewmen who fought in 1942 and ’43, and faced the best that Japan had to offer. On the other hand, especially among Marines and soldiers, there’s a bleak, burning hatred of the Japanese, fueled partly by a level of racism that I can’t find words to describe.

            But a lot of people, both in the military and out of it, never accepted the Japanese Empire as a military equal because it wasn’t. Yes, in 1941 the Empire had some great airplane and ship designs. But in every other way their armed forces were inferior to those fielded by the Allies.

            • Plus there was the aspect of Resources. The US could out produce the Japanese Empire and could put more men on the field than Japan could.

              Too many in the Japanese Military assumed that the “Spirit Of The Japanese Fighting Man” would prevail even against larger numbers.

            • On the other hand, especially among Marines and soldiers, there’s a bleak, burning hatred of the Japanese, fueled partly by a level of racism that I can’t find words to describe.

              When you’re forced to mow down young teen girls that are charging you with a pointy stick, because what their own military will do to them and their family if they don’t is worse than death…. yeah, burning hatred is a good start.

              Worse, if they had been or heard about what happened in the Philippines. There were still people who had family history of what Indian tribal groups had done to their relatives, in living memory, and the atrocities in the PI hit that note hard.

              It’s something like if the Holocaust had occurred in full public, where the grunts could see, and have to clean up the mess, with the other side’s grunts very publicly helping.

              The culture of Japan was very much worth hating. I’m glad they got better, but if we admit that what the Nazis did to the Jews and other groups was wrong– we have to admit that Japan’s culture was similarly wrong.

            • Race and culture are not the same thing.

              Culture and political regime are not the same thing.

              Yes, a lot of us are interpreting stuff as racial hatred. Some of them may have identified it as racial hatred, even.

              Behavior has a lot to do with whether peace is possible between two groups. American culture trained them, and to some extent us, to react strongly to behavior. Strong emotional reactions weren’t wrong. Were they strictly wise in their emotional reactions, able to experience them in a very controlled and deliberate way, that would satisfy they most fastidious of observers? No, few ever are.

              I submit that us modern Americans are biased by our training to see racism where there is actually none.

        • What an odd comment. In what way was I making excuses for Japan? I thought I was criticizing some of the people in the American government and military for underestimating Japan. And until 1940 the US was selling Japan scrap iron, steel, oil and even aviation fuel. Not wise.

  7. I’ve reposted something I cut out from the LA newspaper sometime in the 1970s, written by an LA Times op-ed writer who was in Honolulu on the morning of December 7th. It was one of the most evocative remembrances I had ever read of that day – I kept the clipping in my copy of Walter Lord’s book about the Pearl Harbor attack.


    “…It had been a good party. We were all keyed up and full of war talk and we envied the correspondent, who would be there when it started. That very morning the banner on the Honolulu Advertiser had said WAR EXPECTED OVER WEEKEND. Japan was expected to attack the Dutch Indies, or if they were insane enough, the Philippines … I don’t know how long we had been standing there in the yard when we heard a thump; one of those deep, distant, inexplicable sounds that make human beings feel suddenly very small and cold.
    “It must be the gas works” somebody said, and we laughed. Days later, when we were all together again, we agreed it must have been the Arizona blowing up.”

  8. Both my parents were in the military during WWII – Dad in the Army in Europe, and Mom in the Navy in DC (decoding Japanese naval code). The war was always a topic,especially since one of Dad’s brothers and two of Mom’s also served. Mom’s service in Naval intelligence helped Mel decide on an intelligence career in the Air Force. Read “Code Girls” by Lisa Mindy for an idea of what Mom did.

  9. The curator of the Battleship New Jersey museum had a short Pearl Harbor Day video up today on the museum’s YouTube channel. It is a capsule history of the attack, recorded on the deck of the Texas, the last surviving battleship that was a contemporary to the Arizona. The similarity in appearance with Arizona is striking, particularly since the video was filmed from the bow looking aft, with the turrets and superstructure and tripod looking so much like that iconic shot of Arizona, but intact, without the listing, without the smoke and fires and other damage.

  10. Anent our hostess’s life choices, I like to say that History is what we are today. I also point to the opening of Philip Bobbitt’s =The Shield of Achilles=, which argues that our knowledge of who we are rests on our knowledge of who we have been. And finally I quote John Dickson Carr: “To write good history is the noblest act of man.”

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