Noah's ARKives

(Archive - Week of December 3, 2005)

Pearl Harbor Remembered
"A date which will live in infamy"
By Gerry Brown

The USS Arizona gouts smoke before finally going underwater

Dec. 7, 1941, at five minutes to eight o'clock, 183 Japanese warplanes ruined a perfectly fine Sunday morning on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The first attack wave had reached the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Oahu's Pearl Harbor and for all intents and purposes, World War II began for the United States.

Although the U.S. military forces in Pearl Harbor had been recently strengthened, the base was not at a state of high alert. Many people were just waking when the first bombs were dropped. No one was prepared to do battle.

Japanese aircraft had flown 230 miles from the north, originating from an attack force comprising six aircraft carriers and 423 planes.
The assault was the complete surprise the Japanese wanted, even though at 7:02 a.m., almost an hour before the first wave of planes arrived, two Army radar men on Oahu's northern shore had detected the attack approaching. They contacted a junior officer, who disregarded their reports, assuming they had instead spotted American B-17 bombers expected in from the West Coast of the U.S.

The first wave of Japanese planes, made up of 51 Val dive bombers, 50 high level bombers, 43 Zero fighters and 40 Kate torpedo bombers, attacked when flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida gave the now infamous battle cry "Tora! Tora! Tora!" ("Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!") The second wave arrived shortly thereafter. Almost simultaneously, five Japanese "minisubs" began their attack from underwater, but were able to do little damage.

Pearl Harbor, on the southern coast of Oahu, housed the bulk of the Pacific Fleet at the time of the attack.

Less than two hours later, 2,280 American servicemen and 68 civilians were dead, 1,109 were wounded, eight battleships were damaged and five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers, and three smaller boats were lost, along with 188 aircraft.

The biggest loss that day was the USS Arizona, on which 1,177 crewmen were killed when a 1,760 pound bomb smashed through her decks and ignited her forward ammo magazine causing a terrible explosion. Fewer than nine minutes later she was underwater.

Pearl Harbor was the principal but not sole target of the Japanese attack that day. Other military installations on Oahu were hit. Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows airfields, Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, and Schofield Barracks suffered varying degrees of damage, with hundreds of planes destroyed on the ground and hundreds of men killed or wounded.

While the attack that day was a huge blow to the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, it was not a total victory for the Japanese. Not only were the attack's biggest targets, the American aircraft carriers, out of port at the time and therefore saved, but the attack galvanized the nation's support for involvement in the war, ultimately contributing to the defeat of the Axis powers.

Today, 64 years later, more than 1.5 million people a year visit the memorial that floats over the sunken Arizona to pay respects to the loss of life that occurred on what President Franklin D. Roosevelt would call "a date which will live in infamy."

After Pearl Harbor the Japanese quickly gained control over a huge area of the Pacific, from the Phillipines to Burma to the Aleutians to the Solomons. While the Japanese enjoyed the advantage of erior lines of communication, they had somewhat overextended themselves. Once the Allies became strong enough to threaten their perimeter from several directions, the advantage would be lost, since Japan did not have and could not produce enough planes and ships to defend in force at all points. The turning point in the Pacific theatre came in mid-1942 with history's first great carrier battles. In the Coral Sea the U.S. Navy checked the Japanese. In the Battle of Midway it defeated them.

After the Battle of Midway, the Allies were able to launch a counter-offensive. The first stage of the offensive began with the Navy under Admiral Nimitz and Marine landings on Guadalcanal and nearby islands in the Solomons. At the same time, the Army under General MacArthur with Australian allies set out to take New Guinea's Papuan peninsula. After long, bloody struggles, both campaigns succeeded.

From this point on, Nimitz and MacArthur engaged in island-hopping campaigns that bypassed strongly-held islands to strike at the ememy's weak points. Campaigns against the Aleutians and Rabaul succeeded in stopping the Japanese advances and secured bases for Allied advances on Japan.

While MacArthur pushed along the New Guinea coast, preparing for his return to the Philippines, Nimitz crossed the central Pacific, via the Gilberts, Marshalls, Marianas, Carolines, and Palaus. Once the Marianas were taken, it would be possible to use them as bases from which the new long-range B-29 bombers could strike at the heart of Japan.

The advance through the Central Pacific got under way in November 1943 with the seizure of two islands, Tarawa and Makin in the Gilberts. Marines landed on Tarawa on November 21 and took the island in a four-day fight at a cost to the Marines of some 3,000 casualties. Army troops overwhelmed the small Japanese garrison on Makin between November 20 and 24, 1943.

During January and February 1944, Admiral Nimitz proceeded to positions in the central and western Marshalls. The principal islands taken were Kwajalein, which was invaded by an Army force on February 1, and the islands of Roi and Namur, which were invaded by Marines on February 3 and 6. From Kwajalein a naval task force, moving west 340 miles with a regiment each of Marines and infantry, captured a Japanese air base on Engebi in the Eniwetok Atoll on February 17-19, 1944.

Meanwhile, on February 16, Nimitz had launched a massive carrier raid on Truk in the central Carolines, long considered Japan's key bastion in the central Pacific. This raid revealed that the Japanese had virtually abandoned Truk as a naval base, and a plan to assault that atoll in June was abandoned. Instead, Nimitz drew up plans for an invasion of the Marianas in June, to be followed in September by an advance into the western Carolines.

Admiral Nimitz invaded the Marianas in June 1944. Amphibious assaults were made on Saipan on June 15, on Guam on July 20, and on Tinian on July 23, 1944. All three islands were strongly garrisoned by Japanese troops who contested every yard of ground.

Loss of Saipan precipitated a political crisis in Tokyo and brought about the fall of the Tojo Cabinet. The Japanese sallied forth to offer battle to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. They hastily reassembled their fleet from Biak and the Philippines and sailed north to defend the Marianas area, but lack of land-based air support made it impossible to surprise the U.S. naval contingents under Admiral Spruance.

In a massive air battle that took place on June 19, 4 days after landings on Saipan, the Japanese lost more than 400 planes to an American loss of less than 30. Stripped of carrier planes, the Japanese fleet fled westward, but American planes in pursuit were able to sink several vessels, including three carriers.

During this engagement, known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea, only three American ships were damaged. This victory paved the way for eventual success in the Marianas, and provided a demonstration of the interdependence of operations in the Southwest and Central Pacific Areas.

Capture of the Marianas brought Japan within reach of the Army Air Forces' huge new bomber, the B-29, which was able to make a nonstop flight of the 1,400 miles to Tokyo and back. Construction of airfields to accommodate B-29's began in the Marianas before the shooting had stopped, and in late November 1944 the strategic bombing of Japan began.

The last two major campaigns of the Pacific war -- Luzon and Okinawa -- were still to come. But Japan was essentially beaten. It was defenseless on the seas; its air force was gone; and its cities were being burned out by incendiary bombs. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 and the Soviet declaration of war on 8 August forced the leaders of Japan to recognize the inevitable.

On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender and ordered Japanese forces to lay down their arms. Since the war in Europe had already been won, V-J Day, September 2, 1945, marked the end of the greatest war in human history.

Believing in honor, courage, and commitment, the United States Marine Corps helps keep our country safe by their steadfast devotion to "God,Corps and Country "The few, The Proud The Marines."

I am proud to have been a Marine and a loyal American through Good and Bad Times.

SEND IN THE MARINES! The United States Marines have proven themselves to be a fighting force without peer. Always ready to protect America's liberty and freedom, their pledge to "God, Corps, and Country" is symboized by their motto, "Semper Fidelis" -  "Always Faithful"

How Many American Troops Have Died in War?

  • American Revolution 25,324
  • Bunker Hill cost 400 American lives
  • War of 1812 2,260
  • Mexican War 13,283
  • Civil War Union Confederacy 498,332
  • 364,821 Antietam cost 5,000 lives on both sides: bloodiest day in American history
  • Spanish-American War 2,446
  • World War I  116,516
  • Battle of Somme cost 19,240 British lives on a single day (total British casualties that day: 57,470)
  • World War II 405,399
  • Other Losses:
    Soviet: 10,000,000
    German: 3,500,000
    Japan: 1,500,000
    British: 280,000
  • At Dunkirk the British suffered 68,000 casualties
  • Korean War 54,246
  • Vietnam War 58,244
  • Panama Invasion 23
  • Gulf War (1991) 148
  • George Bush Iraq War  2,150 and counting


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