“Yesterday, December 7, 1941â€”a date which will live in infamyâ€”the United States of American was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” (See History Matters for the entire transcript.)
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tragedy shared by every American, and every service. “All together the Japanese sank or severely damaged 18 ships, including the 8 battleships, three light cruisers, and three destroyers. On the airfields the Japanese destroyed 161 American planes (Army 74, Navy 87) and seriously damaged 102 (Army 71, Navy 31).
“The Navy and Marine Corps suffered a total of 2,896 casualties of which 2,117 were deaths (Navy 2,008 (1,177 on the ARIZONA (Fox)), Marines 109) and 779 wounded (Navy 710, Marines 69). The Army (as of midnight, 10 December) lost 228 killed or died of wounds, 113 seriously wounded and 346 slightly wounded. In addition, at least 57 civilians were killed and nearly as many seriously injured (WW2history.info).”
The Coast Guard was there too, receiving and returning fire and protecting the harbor from further penetration (USCG Historian).
To the Navy, Pearl Harbor became a defining moment in its history – a beginning, really, of its worldwide role in maritime defense. For the first time, the Navy would fight in major battles all over the world; pitting Task Force against Task Force and bringing the dawn of the era of the aircraft carrier. The losses would be staggering (see the Naval Historical Center’s list of Navy and Coast Guard vessels sunk or damaged beyond repair in WWII for a sobering glimpse of the scope of the cost of war).
World War II may have been the fiery birth of the modern Navy, but its character was already well-defined through the deeds of past heroes. That character showed itself again on December 7th, 1941.
Through the chaos and tragedy, new heroes emerged. Fifteen men – all of them Navy – received Medals of Honor for their actions that day, many of them awarded posthumously (Homeofheroes.com). Many of these men lost their lives while saving others, knowing that their actions would certainly culminate in their own deaths.
There are simply too many stories to tell. Shocked into sudden war after years of relative peace, these and thousands of others did what Sailors have always done – they manned their stations, did their duties, and took care of their shipmates.
Today there are around 5000 survivors still living (USAToday). They were stationed not only at Pearl Harbor, but also at Schofield Barracks, Kaneohe Bay, and several other sites around Oahu. They saw the world change with their own eyes, and were the first – but not the last – to show the mettle that would ultimately bring victory to the Allied forces four years later, and save the world from the clutches of despotism. As Tom Brokaw said at the 65th anniversary last year, “America in an instant became the land of the indivisible. There are so many lessons from that time for our time, none greater than the idea of one nation (being) greater than the sum of its parts (Fox).”
They became the vanguard of what would become the Greatest Generation. The Pearl Harbor veterans – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard – are all heroes, and we salute them.