From The Writer’s Almanac
It was on this day in 1941 that Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. The attack came after the United States had frozen Japanese assets and declared an embargo on shipments of petroleum and other war materials to Japan. On the morning of December 7, soldiers at Pearl Harbor were learning how to use a new device called radar, and they detected a large number of planes heading toward them. They telephoned an officer to ask him what to do. The officer said they must be American B-17s on their way to the base, and he told the soldiers not to worry about it. A sailor named James Jones, who would go on to write the novel From Here to Eternity (1951), was in the mess hall that morning. Because it was Sunday, there was a bonus ration of milk to go along with breakfast. Jones said, “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.”
The Japanese planes dropped bombs and torpedoes, and ships started capsizing and sinking. Men jumped and fell from the boats into the water, which was covered with burning oil. Most of the damage occurred in the first thirty minutes. The U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized, and the California, Nevada, and West Virginia sank in shallow water. The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed, killing more than 1,500 soldiers aboard. When Nurses arrived for morning duty they found hundreds of injured men all over the base. The nurses ran around, administering morphine, and to prevent overdoses they wrote the letter M on each treated man’s forehead.
There were ultimately 2,390 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor and 1,178 wounded. Two days after the attack, the Navy passed out postcards to the survivors and told them to write to their families, but not to describe what had happened. A man named George Smith said, “My mother didn’t get that postcard until February. . . . When the mailman got [my] card at the post office, he closed down and ran all the way to my house . . . woke up my [parents] and told them, ‘Your son’s OK.’ I would not see my mother for two and a half years.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, “a date which will live in infamy,” and he used the event as the grounds for leading the United States into World War II.
See NewMexiKen’s slideshow of the Arizona Memorial [1.2MB Windows Media file].