Photo of USS Missouri (on left) and USS Arizona Memorial (center right) taken from the deck of the submarine USS Bowfin on November 6, 2015. The tower at Hickam Field can be seen in the distance directly over the Arizona Memorial (Bill Howard Photo)
Pearl Harbor is peaceful and reverential today. The tourists that visit this hallowed place seem more respectful – more knowledgeable – than those I’ve experienced at other historic sites. Pearl Harbor is a special place. Seventy-four years after the horrific events of December 7, 1941 unfolded here, there is a feeling that Pearl Harbor is still struggling to make sense of the loss and tragedy that took place here.
I have visited Pearl Harbor twice – more recently in November 2015. It is a busy and bustling historic site where Japanese tourists seem to outnumber Americans but there is little of the loud chatter that fills the atmosphere at so many other important historic places. Foreign tourists of all kinds who come here walk side by side with Americans who travel here to pay respects and to remember lives lost and a country that was shaken into the realities of global war.
December 7, 1941 had begun as a sleepy Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor, the headquarters of U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was just before 8 a.m., when Japan unleashed the first wave of a force of more than 350 planes from six aircraft carriers in attacks against Pearl Harbor.
Before the attack, Americans had been focusing much of their attention to the situation in Europe and Hitler’s rapid advance to empire building. In the summer and fall of 1940, England had fought valiantly to fend of German air assaults but was now being subjected to the incessant bombings of “The Blitz.” In the course of just two hours on the morning of December 7th, the United States fleet suffered the loss or damage of 18 ships, including the battleships Arizona, Oklahoma, California, Nevada and West Virginia; More than 2,400 United States service personnel were killed and over 1,000 wounded. About 200 U.S. aircraft were also destroyed. Despite Japan’s initial success, it air assault failed to deliver the knockout punch to the U.S. fleet that it had hoped for. Outraged by the attack, Americans rallied behind their government. Thousands flocked to military recruiting stations to volunteer and “Remember Pearl Harbor,” became a war cry that continued to inspire even to the end of the war in 1945.
The day after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for an official Declaration of War. His request was met with a vote of 82-0 in the Senate and 388-1 in the House. In November 2015 I purchased two rare photographs of the Pearl Harbor attack that were taken by Japanese pilots during the operation. These rare photos have been previously published, but were removed from the album of a Japanese pilot. These remarkable photos were published in Japan during the war and were used as propaganda by Imperial officials. They starkly show both the surprise nature of the attack and the severity of the damage inflicted upon the U.S. Navy.
Photo of Pearl Harbor with U.S. ships at anchor in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. Within minutes, the Japanese planes would begin their air assault in an attack that would bring the U.S. into World War II. (Bill Howard Collection)
Photo of what is believed to be the first bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941. One Japanese plane is shown pulling out of a dive near bomb eruption (center) and another the air at upper right. (Bill Howard Collection)
Official U.S. Navy photo of the hangar at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor fringed in flames caused by Japanese bombs which wrecked the installation, December 7, 1941. Planes on aprons and runways were burned and shattered. Wreckage of some may be seen in foreground. (Bill Howard Collection)