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Hellish Hawaiian Morning

By Les Whittle

December 7, 1941, the news began crackling over the radios that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor at 0800 hours. What had begun as the normal quiet Sunday morning of sleeping in or going to church services with some ships bands playing on the decks or recuperating from the Saturday night parties, all hell was to break loose and change the course of life forever. Many civilians asked each other, where is Pearl Harbor ? Perhaps up to this time, only the rich and famous knew where Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii was located…the Island of Paradise. 

The protests of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s had now stopped and saw the “Sleeping Giant” pull together like never before. The whole United States became completely united and the patriotism has never been equaled. 

The paragraphs to follow set the course of events on and around December 7, 1941 as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said of it, “a date which will live in infamy.” The battle cry was now clear REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR! 

Saturday, December 6, 1941 – Washington, D.C. The U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a final appeal to the Emperor of Japan for peace. There was no reply. Late this same day, the U.S. Code-breaking service begins intercepting a 14-part Japanese message and deciphers the first 13 parts, passing them on to the President and Secretary of State. The Americans believe a Japanese attack is imminent, most likely somewhere in Southeast Asia. 

Sunday, December 7, 1941 – Washington, D.C. The last part of the Japanese message, stating that diplomatic relations with the U.S. are to be broken off, reaches Washington in the morning and is decoded at approximately 0900 hours (A.M.). About an hour later, another Japanese message is intercepted. It instructs the Japanese embassy to deliver the main message to the Americans at 1300 hours (1 PM). The Americans realize this time corresponds with early morning time in Pearl Harbor, which are several hours behind Washington, D.C. time. The U.S. War Department then sent an alert but uses a commercial telegraph because radio contact with Hawaii is temporarily broken. Delays prevent the alert from arriving at headquarters in Oahu until noontime (Hawaii time) four hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor has already begun. 

Sunday, December 7, 1941 – Islands of Hawaii, near Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. The Japanese attack force under the command of Admiral Nagumo, consisting of six carriers with 423 planes, is about to attack. At 0600 hours (6:00 AM), the first attack wave of 183 Japanese planes takes off from the carriers located 230 miles north of Oahu and heads for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. 

Pearl Harbor. At 0702 Hours (7:02 AM), two Army operators at Oahu’s northern shore radar station detect the Japanese air attack approaching and contact a Junior Officer who disregards their reports, thinking they are American B-17 planes which are expected in from the U.S. West Coast. 

Near Oahu. At 0715 hours (7:15 AM), a second attack wave of 167 planes takes off from the Japanese carriers and heads for Pearl Harbor. 

Pearl Harbor and other military bases are not on a state of high alert. Senior Commanders have concluded, based on available intelligence, there is no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Aircraft are therefore left parked wingtip to wingtip on airfields, anti-aircraft guns are unmanned with many ammunition boxes kept locked in accordance with peacetime regulations. There are also no torpedo nets protecting the fleet anchorage. Since it is Sunday morning, many officers and crewmen are leisurely ashore. 

At 0753 hours (7:53 AM), the first Japanese assault wave, with 51 ‘Val’ dive bombers, 40 ‘Kate’ torpedo bombers, 50 high level bombers and 43 ‘Zero’ fighters, commences the attack with flight Commander, Mitsuo Fuchida, sounding the battle cry: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) 

The Americans are taken completely by surprise. The first attack wave targets airfields and battle ships. The second wave targets other ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasts until 0945 hours (9:45 AM). Eight battleships are damaged, with five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels are lost along with 188 aircraft. The Japanese lost 27 planes and five midget submarines which attempted to penetrate the inner harbor and launch torpedoes. 

Escaping damage from the attack were prime targets, three U.S. Pacific Fleet Aircraft Carriers, Lexington, Enterprise, and Saratoga, which were not in port. Also, escaping damage are the base fuel tanks. 

The casualty list includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, with 1,178 wounded. Included are 1,104 men aboard the Battleship USS Arizona after a 1,760-pound air bomb penetrated into the forward magazine causing catastrophic explosions. 

In Washington, various delays prevent the Japanese diplomats from presenting their war message to Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, until 1430 hours (2:30 PM Washington time) just as the first reports of the air raid at Pearl Harbor are being read by Hull. 

News of the “sneak attack” is broadcast to the American public via radio bulletins, with many popular Sunday afternoon entertainment programs being interrupted. The news sent a shockwave across the nation and resulted in a tremendous influx of young volunteers into the U.S. armed forces. The attack also united the nation behind the President and effectively ended isolationist sentiment in the country. 

Monday, December 8, 1941. The United States and Britain declare war on Japan. President Roosevelt calling December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” in his address to the nation declaring War on Japan. 

vThursday, December 11, 1941. Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. The European and Southeast Asian Wars have now become a global conflict with the Axis powers, Japan, Germany, and Italy, united against American, Britain, France, and their Allies. 

Wednesday, December 17, 1941. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz becomes the new commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 

Both senior commanders at Pearl Harbor; Navy Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Army Lt. General Walter C. Short, were relieved of their duties following the attack. Subsequent investigations will fault the men for failing to adopt adequate defense measures. 

A month after the attack, Metalsmith 1st Class Edward Raymer was the first to enter the sunken Arizona. In Raymer’s memoir, Descent into Darkness he writes of his experiences as a Navy diver. On a mission to disarm an unexploded torpedo, Raymer entered the third deck of the U.S.S. Arizona. “I got the eerie feeling again that I wasn’t alone. Something was near. I felt the body floating above me.” 229 bodies were recovered from the Arizona before the Navy decided to leave the rest untouched. 

Sixty-two years after the Japanese sank the U.S.S. Arizona, the silent tomb still sheds fuel oil, drop by drop each coming to the surface. 

The free world owes a great deal of gratitude to the “Greatest Generation”. Had WWII been lost, among other things, you would not be reading this letter. Enjoy your freedom…the cost was high and was not free…terrific sacrifices have been paid. 

by Les Whittle

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