Photo of Sailors saluting the USS Arizona Memorial

It was a quiet and beautiful Sunday morning at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor—home of America’s Pacific Fleet.  Many of the 60,000 Sailors and other military personnel stationed there were still in their bunks resting after a Saturday night on the town. Some were eating breakfast; a few were on duty, others just straggling in. What appeared to be another day in paradise would quickly turn into a nightmare.

At five minutes before 8:00 AM on December 7, 1941, 183 Japanese aircraft raced across the mountains north of Pearl Harbor with a mission to destroy the U.S. Fleet. Bombs were dropped on fuel and ammunition dumps, buildings, and ships. Japanese pilots strafed the same with wing-mounted machine guns while others dropped torpedoes.

The attack was a surprise. Some Sailors went down with their ships. Some were trapped only to drown inside as water replaced the air in the sinking ship.

Some had to choose between staying aboard a doomed ship, or take a chance by diving into a harbor aflame with burning oil, littered with the dead bodies of their fellow service members.  It was truly a living hell.

But in American fashion, these brave men and women pulled together. Ammunition and weapons lockers were cracked open in order to fight back. Army pilots dodged bombs and machine gun fire to make it to their planes in attempt to take to the air and drive off the attackers. Some rendered aid to the injured and dying. Others put their comrades before themselves and risked their own lives to save a stranger.

Fifty minutes later, a second wave of 170 Japanese planes intensified the attack arriving almost simultaneously from three different directions. More than 1,100 Sailors were killed when the U.S.S. Arizona’s forward magazine exploded from a direct bomb strike.  In all, the assault claimed 2,403 American lives and left more than a thousand others wounded.

Ninety minutes after it all began, the last Japanese plane headed away from Pearl Harbor and back to its carrier.  America’s entry into World War II was solidified.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, would write in his diary, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Whether or not the Admiral actually wrote those words is debatable, however, there is no doubt the attack did awaken a sleeping giant. Sixteen million fighting Americans would go on to drive the Japanese and Germans into surrender—fighting in every corner of the globe to deliver a world free from tyranny.

Today, fewer than 3,000 Pearl Harbor survivors remain as our last living links with history and the beginning of America’s greatest generation. Most of these brave Americans are now in their late 80s and 90s. Today, we salute their valor and sacrifice, and we honor their fighting spirit—a spirit that has motivated millions of Americans to follow their lead and live by their example.

For most of us born several generations later, it’s hard to relate to the devastation, the loss of life and the implications of those events that happened 70 years ago; and thousands of miles away.

I believe the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor was to the greatest generation what 9/11 is to most of us. Most of us weren’t directly affected by the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., but we felt the horror, the overwhelming emotions and the desire to unite and take the fight to enemy.

Those experiences and emotions must have been similar to what the greatest generation felt and it spurred them on to set a high standard for both future American service members and for how the world would view the United States and its military might.

Those of us who have worn the uniform, and those who will wear it tomorrow, are the legacy of the survivors of Pearl Harbor as well as the millions of brave Veterans who followed in their footsteps. They put country before self and are willing to risk all to save all—the American way of life. We owe all that we are today, to those who came before us.

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6 Comments

  1. Pearl Harbor Memorial March 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Aloha Gary – The years are passing so quickly. It’s true, but hard to believe there’s less than 3,000 still alive.

    It was a very busy, but proud day at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor on the 6th. Let us know if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

    Thanks,

    Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor

  2. Donald Struber December 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I served in U.S. Navy 68-74. Visited the Arizona memorial in 1989. That day was the most moving and emotional day of my life. Looking at the wall of names filled me with grief and pride. There were more Japanese citzens than American. Ironic ! Yes ?

  3. Art Womer December 7, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    We will always remember the sacrifice these men and women made December 7, 1941 and those who gave their lives afterward. We must remember also to teach our younger generation to respect and honor them also. If not for them we would not be here today living in freedom.

  4. Chris Scheer December 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I’ve met many Pearl Harbor veterans and the thing about them that gives me so much hope today is that they all describe themselves as “ordinary” men; nothing special. And so are we all ordinary men and women fortunate enough to live in an extraordinary nation for which ordinary men and women are free to make extraordinary sacrifices to ensure those freedoms now and for the future. Gary is right; this is our legacy and gift to the world.

  5. Stephanie Willcott December 7, 2011 at 10:21 am

    My mother’s dad was chief petty officer of one of these ships involved in the attack. He had limited stories of this particular event in his military career, so I know it disturbed him up to his dying day in 1992. He was an awesome man, and I hate that he had to suffer this unexpected and horrific event! Thank you, Grandpa! RIP

  6. James Laubler December 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Always Remembered

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