Today is Pearl Harbor Day, a “day that will live in infamy.”
It was on this day in 1941 that Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States had frozen Japanese assets and declared an embargo on shipments of petroleum and war materials to Japan, and the Japanese retaliated. On the morning of December 7, soldiers at Pearl Harbor were learning how to use a new device called radar, on which they detected a large number of planes heading toward them. They telephoned an officer who told them that the aircraft must be American B-17s, and not to worry about it.
Because it was a Sunday, there was a bonus ration of milk to go along with breakfast that morning. A sailor named James Jones, the author of From Here to Eternity (1951), went down to the mess hall. He later wrote, “It was not till the first low-flying fighter came whammering overhead with his [machine guns] going that we ran outside, still clutching our half-pints of milk to keep them from being stolen.”
Ships began exploding and capsizing as Japanese planes dropped bombs and torpedoes. Altogether, over two thousand Americans were killed in the attack. President Roosevelt got on the radio, talked for less than 10 minutes, and spoke those now immortal words: “This is a day that will live in infamy.” Congress declared war the following morning, and the United States officially entered World War II, which it had stayed out of for more than two years, adhering to its policy of neutrality in Europe’s affairs.
Even now, memories resurface in strange dreams: windows covered with wool blankets at night, one kerosene lantern in the “middle room” of our house, that resonant fireside voice on the radio reassuring me that everything will be all right, although I understood but few of his words. Once, in an American history high school class, I heard that voice again in a film clip — and those early years flooded back, for some reason wrenching tears from my heart.
Do today’s students hear these stories, read of these events in their history books, take to heart the lesson never to be afraid but always prepared to safeguard their future and the future of their unborn children? I can only hope so.