December 1941: The December to Remember

As we are healing from the over eating and family bickering we enter into December. For myself and many others from my generation (Generation Y) born during the 1980’s, December represents the beginning of the Christmas season, countdown to Christmas gifts, and days off of school for Christmas vacation. But for a few generations before us December means so much more. For some it is a chilling reminder of the attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii happened on December 7, 1941 in the early morning around 8:00AM. Sailors aboard the various ships docked in the harbor were waking and beginning to start their day in paradise. Their daily duties were abruptly disrupted by the sound of explosions and fire.

The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.

The base was attacked by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but two of the eight were raised, repaired and returned to service later in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. The power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.

The attack came as a profound shock to the American people and led directly to the American entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day (December 8 ) the United States declared war on Japan.

In the wake of the attack, 15 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Stars, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Stars were awarded to the American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat at Pearl Harbor. Additionally, a special military award, the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal, was later authorized for all military veterans of the attack.

The day after the attack, Roosevelt delivered his famous Infamy Speech to a Joint Session of Congress, calling for a formal declaration of war on the Empire of Japan. Congress obliged his request less than an hour later. On December 11 Germany and Italy, honoring their commitments under the Tripartite Pact, declared war on the United States. The Tripartite Pact was an earlier agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan which had the principal objective of limiting U.S. intervention in any conflicts involving the three nations. The United States Congress issued a declaration of war against Germany and Italy later that same day. Britain actually declared war on Japan nine hours before the US did, partially due to Japanese attacks on Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and partially due to Winston Churchill’s promise to declare war “within the hour” of a Japanese attack on the United States.

The attack was an initial shock to all the Allies in the Pacific Theater. Further losses compounded the alarming setback. Japan attacked the Philippines hours later (because of the time difference, it was December 8 in the Philippines). Only three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk off the coast of Malaya, causing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later to recollect “In all the war I never received a more direct shock. As I turned and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked”.

Throughout the war, Pearl Harbor was frequently used in American propaganda.

One further consequence of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath (notably the Niihau Incident) was that Japanese American residents and citizens were relocated to nearby Japanese-American internment camps. Within hours of the attack, hundreds of Japanese American leaders were rounded up and brought to high-security camps such as Sand Island at the mouth of Honolulu harbor and Kilauea Military Camp on the island of Hawaii. Later, over 110,000 Japanese Americans, including United States citizens, were removed from their homes and transferred to internment camps in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. The Japanese planners had determined that some means of rescuing fliers whose aircraft were too badly damaged to return to the carriers was required. The island of Niihau, only 30 minutes flying time from Pearl Harbor, was designated as the rescue point.

The Zero flown by Petty Officer Saikaijo of Hiryu was damaged in the attack on Wheeler, and he flew to the rescue point on Niihau. The aircraft was further damaged on landing, and Saikaijo was helped from the wreckage by one of the native Hawaiian inhabitants. The island’s residents had no telephones or radio and were completely unaware of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The pilot’s maps and other documents had been retained by his local rescuers, and when Saikaijo realized this he enlisted the support of the only two Japanese residents of the island in an attempt to recover them. During the ensuing struggles, Saikaijo was killed, one of the Japanese residents committed suicide and the other disappeared.

The ease with which the local Japanese residents apparently went to the assistance of Saikaijo was a source of concern for many, and tended to support those who believed that local Japanese could not be trusted.


Today, the USS Arizona Memorial on the island of Oahu honors the lives lost on the day of the attack. Visitors to the memorial access it via boats from the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Alfred Preis is the architect responsible for the memorial’s design. The structure has a sagging center and its ends strong and vigorous. It commemorates “initial defeat and ultimate victory” of all lives lost on December 7, 1941. Although December 7 is known as Pearl Harbor Day, it is not considered a federal holiday in the United States. The nation does however, continue to pay homage remembering the thousands injured and killed when attacked by the Japanese in 1941. Schools and other establishments across the country respectfully lower the American flag to half-staff.

Pearl Harbor was that generations 9/11. We look at 9/11 in the same way that the Americans of that era looked at Pearl Harbor. I am a huge history buff, and I can swear that I am reincarnated from someone who lived during the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s. So on every December 7th I  will always remember and honor those who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. I have been on the USS Arizona’s monument and that visit only solidified my overwhelming feelings towards the sad event in history. Aboard the monument it is deafening quiet. It is so amazingly quiet that it feels like another world. You are overcome with such a feeling of loss partly because the of the large list of names chiseled into the marble wall as well as the fact that there still are the remains of sailors locked inside the vessel. It is speculated that the small oily substance seeping from the wreckage is the remains of the sailors who were untimely entombed inside the Arizona during that fateful day.

As we enter December and head towards the day that will live in infamy, I have stories and articles of current events that are related to WWII and the Attack on Pearl Harbor. So as we learn together how WWII and Pearl Harbor is still affecting and touching aspects of our time, please help us keep the memory alive by doing a little research of your own to learn something new about that fateful day. Stay tuned as more articles are to come leading up to December 7th, 70 years after December 1941, The December to Remember.

Thanks for reading,

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Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 3:11 AM  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] as I mentioned in my previous post published on December 1st, I will be posting articles that are related to WWII and or Pearl Harbor that are of current […]

  2. […] I mentioned in the post published on December 1st, I will be posting articles that are related to WWII and or Pearl Harbor that are of current […]

  3. […] 1. (Posted on December 1st 2011) Titled “December 1941: The December to Remember” […]


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