It happened twenty-nine years before I was born, but it’s burned into my consciousness. My visit to Pearl Harbor in 1988 was one of the highlights of my life. December 7, 1941 is an incredible story of tragedy and triumph.
The malaise of the American military leading up to December 7 (even up to the very hour of the attack) is astounding – the ignored political warning signs, the blunders in our analysis of intelligence, even discounted radar readings of the approaching armada of Japanese Zeros.
The fortuitous (or providential) is also astounding. Take, for example the absence of our air craft carriers at the hour of the attack. All of them were spared while out on maneuvers and later made the Doolittle Raid possible as well as the great battle of Midway. Consider also that the Japanese failed to damage the U.S. navy yard or the 190 million gallons of stored fuel oil – both of which enabled the US to make repairs and continue naval operations at Hawaii and avoid total domination of the Pacific by the Japanese.
The terror experienced by the sailors stationed of Pearl Harbor is unfathomable.
Imagine the crew of the USS Oklahoma, which capsized (see 4th photo below) rushing from room to room following the ever-decreasing number of air-pockets as they waited for rescue crews to cut through the bottom of the hull to release them. Survivors from the Oklahoma say at one point they had only 6-inches of air left above their heads to breathe and could hear the voices of rescuers standing above them.
Other survivors recall seeing men swimming up from below the surface only to have their faces literally melt off as they emerged into the oil burning on the surface of the water.
It was a major turning point in military history, as the day of the great battleships came to an end and the day of the aircraft carrier arrived. It was a turning point in American history, as the people of the U.S. rallied together like never before and firmly established the U.S. as a military and industrial superpower. It changed world history, as the balance of world power changed in radical ways through the decades to follow.
I’ll never forget it and neither should any American. Here are few images in honor of the day and the generation of people who experienced it.