December 7, 1941: a dark day for America and the world - a day that will be long
remembered... a tribute to the hidden strength of a sleeping nation... a Day of Infamy...
It was the battle that put America into the second World War, a well-planned secret attack on the U.S. Naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and a day that will long be remembered inside and outside the history book as a "day of darkness", when the clouds of war gathered on a clear South Pacific morning and plunged the modern world into a battleground of struggle and strife.
Relations between America and Japan have been strained for some time. And yet, most Americans were far more concerned about being drawn into the European conflict than they are about a possible Japanese attack. Political and military tensions between Japan and the United States were high, and Pearl Harbor commanders General Walter Short and Admiral Husband Kimmel had received orders from Washington to be on guard, as were U.S. base commanders throughout the Pacific.
But during these dark, early morning hours of December 7, navy officers, soldiers, and sailors stationed at Pearl Harbor are not on any extra special alert. On the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor this Sunday morning, men are sleeping, eating breakfast, relaxing on the sunny decks, or preparing to go ashore for last minute Christmas shopping.
Within seconds the Sunday morning calm is shredded by the explosions of bombs and torpedoes. Smoke and fire rise through the serene blue sky as the U.S. Navy's great battleships are bombed, one after another. Aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, a frantic announcement comes over the PA system: "Real planes, real bombs; this is no drill!"
By the end of the first raid, which lasts 30 minutes, much of America's Pacific fleet is in ruins. The battleship Oklahoma is blown up by three torpedoes; the West Virginia and California are struck by bombs and have sunk to the bottom. The Arizona is also hit by a bomb that goes off below deck, just a few feet from a vast stockpile of explosives. The huge explosion rips apart the ship and causes it to sink within minutes--killing most of the crew, some of whom are still in their beds.
A second wave of Japanese attack planes begins to swoop down and strike the harbor. The heavy smoke of destruction now covers Pearl Harbor, and it becomes difficult for Japanese pilots to aim accurately at their targets. Nevertheless, severe damage has already been done. Finally, by 9:30 a.m. Japanese planes withdraw and the attack is over.
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan" begins President Franklin Roosevelt's six minute speech to both houses of Congress. He details the damage of the Pearl Harbor attack: 18 ships sunk or heavily damaged, over 300 army and navy planes destroyed, and over 2,400 American lives lost. President Roosevelt closes by asking Congress to declare a state of war. And War Was Declared!