PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - It was a "day that would live in infamy," the day that the United States was attacked by the military forces of Japan at the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The attack on Dec. 7, 1941 came as a surprise to the men and women serving in the tropical military compound.
The U.S. had not yet officially taken up arms in World War II, but it was helping supply Great Britain in the battle with the Nazis. Government officials were also trying to get Japan to stop expanding its military hold in Asia and the Pacific, according to the National World War 2 Museum
The attack, the brainchild of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, who thought of the attack, and Capt. Minoru Genda, who planned it, came from a book written in 1925. In "The Great Pacific War," author Hector Bywater showed how a fictional attack on the U.S. fleet by the Japanese could potentially pull America into a war.
U.S. officials were warned of the attack when a cryptologist, or code breaker, intercepted a message from Japan that asked about ship movements and placement in Pearl Harbor. The code breaker's superior said he would get back to her on Dec. 8. On the morning of Dec. 7, a radar operator on Oahu saw planes heading toward the island and the base, but was told by his superior that they were probably planes that were scheduled to arrive on Pearl Harbor that day and not to worry about it, according to historians at the WW2 Museum
He was mistaken.
The Japanese sent a declaration of war to the U.S. shortly before the attack, but it was delayed and was not sent to Washington until the bombings began.
The attack by the Japanese started at 7:55 a.m. after a captain issued the code "Tora, Tora, Tora" to the planes flying over Oahu. The surprise attack was over in just over an hour and a half.
Breaking down the numbers:
- 353 Japanese aircraft
- 40 torpedo planes
- 103 level bombers
- 131 dive bombers
- 79 bombers
- Four heavy carriers
- 2,403 U.S. personnel killed
- including 68 civilians
- 19 ships destroyed or damaged
- Three aircraft carriers were not in the harbor and were spared
- 29 Japanese aircraft destroyed
- 5 Japanese small submarines destroyed
- 129 Japanese military members killed
- One Japanese soldier taken prisoner
Six months after the attack, in June 1942, U.S. aircraft carriers sank four Japanese carriers during the Battle of Midway, a decisive battle of the U.S. campaign against Japan, which ended in August 1945.
The remains of the USS Arizona sit just under the water at the base. A bridge stretches over the battleship that accounted for nearly half of the deaths during the attack. The crew who gave their lives are still entombed in the hull of the ship.
Pearl Harbor continues to be an active military complex. It is the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet as well as a National Historic Landmark
Each year over the more than 70 years since the attack, aging survivors, whose numbers are dwindling, return to pay their respects to their shipmates who were killed.
When their time comes, the men who served on the USS Arizona during the attack and survived the deadly morning can be interred with their shipmates ever patrolling the Pacific. As of 2016, the National Park Service says
27 sailors and two Marines have been interred into the hull of the ship. After the ceremony, an urn holding the ashes of the departed are handed to divers, who place it in an area surrounding gun turret number four.
The honor of returning to Pearl Harbor for their final watch isn't solely for survivors of the Arizona's crew from the day of the attack. Any Pearl Harbor survivor can have his ashes spread over the harbor where his ship was moored during the attack, while members of the Arizona's crew from before Dec. 7, 1941, can have their ashes spread above the historic ship.
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