Updated: Apr 5
I will be the first to say that I usually only remember December 7 importance because of Facebook and small print on my Stellar calendar, which says 'Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.' Such an important day for Americans. The first time we, as a country, were attacked on our land. Military and civilians died at the hands of another country while they were eating breakfast.
I was about to push 'share' on a Facebook meme without really even stopping to take a moment and reflect on the events of that day. Such a 2020 response.
6:37 am on Sunday, December 7, 1941- the USS Ward had attacked and sank a Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarine near the harbor entrance. The attack officially puts the American Armed Forces as a player in the Pacific War during World War II.
7:55 am- Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida yelled out over the radio- 'Tora! Tora! Tora!'. Pearl harbor was now officially under attack.
'Tora, Tora, Tora' was the Japanese code to begin the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The word 'Tora' is a Japanese word that means 'tiger,' but it is also an abbreviation for 'totsugeki raigeki,' which means 'lighting attack.'
The attack lasted 110 minutes; two waves of Japanese planes, totaling 353 planes from six different ships, attacked at 7:55 am and 8:40 am.
All of the U.S. Pacific fleets were docked that day at Pearl Harbor, except for the USS Colorado. Eight battleships were all lined up along 'Battleship Row'; all eight sank or were damaged; all but two could be repaired and returned to active duty. The USS Arizona exploded when a bomb breached the ammunition room, killing 1,177 service members of the 1,512 crew. The USS Oklahoma was torpedoed and listed so bad that it eventually turned upside down, killing 429 crew members.
The aftermath saw the following:
2,343- killed (68 civilians)
19 US Naval vessels were sunk or damaged
188 aircraft were destroyed.
That in itself stopped me for a minute. In only 110 minutes, the world changed for the tiny island of Oahu and the rest of the United States. Two thousand three hundred forty-three died that day. The island itself is only half the size of Rhode Island. It is only 96 miles to drive around, and yet 353 enemy planes swarmed over it, laying down destruction that no one could escape from.
I couldn't even imagine the fear, the panic, the inability to escape, what the people must have thought as they tried to live through the attack.
But, I want to remember. I want you to remember. So, I went a bit deeper into that day because I want to share the stories you may not have heard of before because we will not forget stories.
After the USS Arizona sank, its superstructure and main armament were salvaged and reused to support the war effort, leaving its hull, two gun turrets, and the remains of more than 1,000 crew members submerged in less than 40 feet of water. Visitors can still see those remains today, but the creation of that memorial needs to be honored in its entirety.
In 1949 the Pacific War Memorial Commission was established to create a permanent tribute to those who had lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Still, it wasn't until 1958 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation to create a National Memorial.
The funds to build it came from both the public and private donors, including one unlikely source. In March 1961, entertainer Elvis Presley, who had recently finished a two-year tour with the U.S. Army, performed a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor's Block Arena that raised over $50,000—more than 10 percent of the USS Arizona Memorial's final cost. The monument was dedicated on May 30, 1962.
The Honolulu Memorial is one of three war memorials in the U.S.; the others are the East Coat Memorial to the Missing of World War II in New York and the West Coast Memorial to the Missing of World War II in San Francisco. Since its dedication in 1949, over 53,000 WWI, WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans and their families have been buried there.
The dedication stone at the base of the staircase located at the Punchbowl Crater states the following:
In these gardens are recorded
The name of Americans
Who gave their lives
In the service of their country
And whose earthly resting place
Is known only to God
Interestingly, this is the only time that an entire military band has died in action. According to ussarizona.org, all Capital ships had bands that played the National Anthem at 0800. The USS Arizona was unique in that the U.S. Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22 was the only Navy band that had formed together, trained together, transferred together, reported at the same time to a ship, fought together, and tragically- would die together. Most of the band members had been on the deck preparing to play for the flag-raising ceremony when the attack had begun, all band members perishing on their way to their battle stations or at their battle stations.
The night prior, NBU 22 had attended the annual "Battle of Music" competition between the different military bands based in Pearl Harbor. The band had already qualified for the finals that would be held on December 20, 1941. That year, NBU 22 was declared the winner unanimously, and the award was renamed the USS Arizona Band Trophy.
The USS Oklahoma was built in 1916 and was considered the largest and most advanced ship in the U.S. Navy. On December 7, it took eight torpedoes, all hitting the left side, and within 12 minutes, she rolled over until her masts touched the bottom of the sea.
Four hundred twenty-nine crew members were trapped; only 32 could be rescued.
Here is Captain Rommel's description of the Oklahoma capsizing:
The manhole covers on the blisters had been removed to air them out in preparation for the inspection on Monday, and that was the reason the Oklahoma rolled over instead of sunk. As soon as she took the hits on the port side and started to list, as soon as the blisters got underwater, the water just poured in, and there was no way the damage control station could have counter flooded the ship to keep her on an even keel. She rolled over in about 10 minutes. Looking back from in the water, it was just like a sailboat [sic] going over, slow, inexorable, nothing you could do about it. Nothing swift or rushing, it just slowly went over.
In 1942 the USS Oklahoma was salvaged; in 1943, engineers removed the guns, and the U.S. Navy sold the vessel for scrap in 1946. From 1941-1944, the U.S. Navy personnel did recover the remains of those who died in the attack. By 1947, The Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks identified only 35 bodies out of the 429. In 2017 DPAA was able to identify the 100th victim. Unfortunately, the USS Oklahoma haul did sink in 1947 while being towed from Oahu to a breaker's yard in the San Francisco Bay during a storm.
The USS Utah, one of the battleships not located on Battleship Row, had served in World War I and was demilitarized and converted into a target ship. She was moored on the other side of Ford Island and was quickly torpedoed and sank during the attack. Fifty-eight members died. It is said that the men who died are guarding the remains of baby Nancy Lynne. Baby Nancy and her twin sister, Mary, were born prematurely in the Philippines, weighing only three pounds each. Baby Nancy arrived with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and could only survive her injuries for two days. Her father, Albert Wagner, wanted baby Nancy to have a proper burial at sea and was waiting on a chaplain to be assigned to the ship; her father had stored her ashes in an Urn in his locker.
The family would visit the site of the attack on the USS Utah, only to find just an old ship and mud. No memorial had been placed in honor of the men lost.
"There was nothing but mud then and no indication that there are men still aboard," said Kreigh of her father's last visit in 1971.
Mary, the twin sister, made it her life work to share the story of the USS Utah and baby Nancy, and in 1972 the U.S. Navy erected a concrete pier and memorial slab in honor of those buried below the water's edge.
As always, my friends, I invite you to do further research on your own as there is no way to tell every story. I include a link below on the Oral History Interviews from the survivors of that fateful day. Hearing the story from the people who experienced it is so much more powerful than watching a documentary or reading a blog.
And remember- be Good at something you are Great at!
Books on the Pearl Harbor Memorial
Remembering Pearl Harbor: The Story of the USS Arizona Memorial by Michael Slackman
Pearl Harbor Survivors: An Oral History of 24 Servicemen by Harry Spiller