December 7, 2022 marks the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed 2,403 service members and civilians and wounded an additional 1,178, and was the deadliest attack on American soil until September 11, 2001. Fewer than 170,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive to commemorate National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day with the rest of the nation.
Just before 8am on December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The primary motivation behind the attack was that in the summer of 1941, the United States has cut off oil exports to Japan. Japan had depended on the U.S. for eighty percent of its oil. The Japanese government wanted to cripple or destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet to prevent American interference with the Japanese navy, and to weaken American morale so that the U.S. government would agree to a peace compromise with Japan. Instead Japan awakened a sleeping giant.
The Japanese attack consisted of a strike force of 353 aircraft launched from four aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 11 destroyers, 35 submarines, and nine oilers. The attack targeted U.S. naval vessels as well as aircraft on Oahu’s airfield. In less than two hours, every battleship in Pearl Harbor had sustained significant damage. 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes were disabled or destroyed. But the Japanese attack did not succeed in demolishing the Pacific fleet. All U.S. aircraft carriers, the most important naval vessels at the time, were away from base on December 7. In addition, the Japanese did not attack critical onshore resources, such as oil storage depots, submarine docks, and shipyards. Further, all damaged ships except the USS Arizona and the USS Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired. Because of this, the U.S. Navy was able to rebuild and recover fairly quickly. But after sustaining the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States could no longer avoid becoming involved in WWII
On December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered the now immortal words as part of an address asking Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 –a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces by the Empire of Japan.” Upon hearing of the devastation at Pearl Harbor, Americans were instantly united in their resolution to go to war, which was evidenced by the lines that formed in front of military recruitment offices the day after the attack. On December 10, the New York Times reported that, “All recruiting records of the nation’s armed forces were shattered … as thousands of men attempted to enlist for combat duty in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard.” These men are called the greatest generation because their deep love of country and sense of duty propelled them to volunteer. They were brave in the face of tyranny and made many personal sacrifices to defend America. The courage of these men is the reason that the United States was able to put checkmark in the W column.
On August 23, 1994, the United States Congress officially designated December 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Every year, Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans, and visitors honor and remember those who were killed during the Japanese attack. A commemoration ceremony is held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii. In addition, tributes are held all across the country and flags are flown at half-staff so that Americans continue to remember and understand the bravery and legacy of those who fought in the war, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation.
We are united as a nation in our enduring gratitude to the Greatest Generation, and this Pearl Harbor Remembrance day, we honor our surviving WWII veterans and remember those who are no longer with us. As we fly our flags at half-staff, we will reflect on some of the words spoken by FDR on December 8, 1941. “No matter how long it might take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” Please join us in sending up a prayer and saying thank you to all those who fought so bravely in WWII.