On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise aerial attack on the U.S. Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, resulting in the United States’s emergence into World War II.
2,403 Americans, including 68 civilians, were killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 19 U.S. Navy ships, including eight battleships, were also destroyed or severely damaged.
Tensions between the U.S. and Japan heightened when the U.S. aided China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The U.S. provided weapons to China during their war with Japan, hoping the war would curb Japanese expansion into the Pacific.
By July 1941, Japan had captured all of Indochina, and later joined the Axis powers. In response, the United States ended all economic ties with Japan, freezing their assets and issuing an embargo on American exports to Japan. The Japanese tried to negotiate with the U.S. after their embargo, but Japanese Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki wanted to go to war.
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto carefully planned to attack Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy base in the Hawaii territory. Yamamoto waited for the U.S. Navy’s fleet to be out of action before launching a surprise attack, hoping the destruction of the U.S. naval fleet would prevent the Americans from fighting back while the Japanese spread across the Pacific.
The U.S. government received hints about a possible attack from Japan, though they never acted on it. On Dec. 6, a cryptologist intercepted a message from Japan regarding ship movements at Pearl Harbor. She gave the message to her superior, who told her he would get back to her on Monday, Dec. 8. Early on Dec. 7, a radar operator reported seeing a large group of planes headed towards Hawaii. He was told by his superior that it was likely a group of B-17 bombers, and to not worry about it.
At 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, more than 350 Japanese aircrafts filled the skies of Pearl Harbor. Torpedo planes, bombers, and fighters sprayed vessels with bombs and bullets. A 1,800-pound bomb crashed through the deck of the USS Arizona. The battleship exploded and violently sank, killing the 1,177 crewmen stuck inside. Half of the deaths from Pearl Harbor were on the Arizona. Torpedoes then hit the USS Oklahoma, capsizing the battleship and killing 429 crewmen. The USS Utah was also sunk.
The USS Arizona remains sunken in Pearl Harbor with its crew on board. An American flag flies above the battleship, now a memorial to all of those who bravely fought and died in the attack. 80 years after it sank, the ship still slowly leaks up to nine quarts of oil into the harbor each day.
In 75 minutes, the Japanese fleet had destroyed every battleship in Pearl Harbor, though all but the USS Arizona and the USS Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired. The Japanese attack also destroyed more than 300 American airplanes. 2,403 sailors, soldiers, and civilians were killed, and more than 1,000 were wounded.
On Dec. 8, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, asking for a declaration of war against Japan. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” Roosevelt told Congress. Congress almost unanimously granted the declaration of war, and the United States officially entered World War II.
The United States quickly recovered, and sank four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway only six months later. Afterwards, the U.S. began island-hopping throughout the Pacific, eventually defeating Japan in August of 1945.
Dec. 7, 2021 will be the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Every anniversary, veterans and survivors from across the nation gather at Pearl Harbor to commemorate those who bravely fought and died in the attack. This year’s theme of the commemoration is “Valor, Sacrifice, and Peace.”
40 Pearl Harbor survivors are expected to attend this year’s ceremony, including 101-year old Pearl Harbor survivor Ike Schab.
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FulcherDec.4.2021, Jim, and Jim Fulcher. “40 Pearl Harbor Survivors to Attend 80th Anniversary Ceremony – How to Watch from Home.” TravelAwaits, December 3, 2021. https://www.travelawaits.com/2714701/pearl-harbor-80th-anniversary-remembrance-ceremony/.
History.com Editors. “Pearl Harbor.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 29, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor.
Johnson, Lauren M. “101-Year-Old Pearl Harbor Survivor Will Attend the 80th Memorial Service Thanks to His Daughter and Dozens of Kind Strangers.” WXOW, December 5, 2021. https://www.wxow.com/news/daybreak/101-year-old-pearl-harbor-survivor-will-attend-the-80th-memorial-service-thanks-to-his/article_a1b0f65b-b357-5904-8179-8df8cd39dbd5.html.
“The Attack.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed December 6, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack/The-attack.