Wednesday, December 7, 2011

70th Anniversary of the Day of Infamy - Part Two

70 years after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, we are rapidly losing a historical treasure over this seminal event in US History.  These are the veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The youngest are in the late 80's.  Their stories, information, and first hand recollections of the attack are amazing.

Across the United States, efforts are being made to preserve their information and stories for the benefit of future generations.

Their stories are amazing. 

During my honeymoon in 1994, my wife and I visited Pearl Harbor as tourists.  We visited the museum which detailed the attack with photos, maps, and models of the ships and aircraft involved from both sides.  Inside the theater was an excellent film about the attack.  I filmed it on my camcorder - but still haven't moved it from the tape to digital. 

However, there were two events that were riveting to both of us from our visit to Pearl Harbor.  One was our trip over to the USS Arizona Memorial which is astride the sunken battleship USS Arizona.  On the walls of this memorial are the names of the 1,177 officers and crew who perished when the battleship exploded and sunk during the attack.  But facing north on the Memorial, one can look into the waters of Pearl Harbor and see the shattered ship - with oil still slowly leaking from it's broken fuel tanks.

The second memorable event was outside the museum.  Standing on the patio between the museum and the harbor, overlooking Battleship Row and the USS Arizona Memorial, were a number of Pearl Harbor veterans.  These gentlemen were answering questions and telling their stories of their experiences during the attack - as a sailor on board a submarine, another who was aboard a cruiser damaged in the attack, and another a survivor from one of the crippled battleships.  These are the stories that I need to covert to a digital format.  These are the stories that our future generations need to hear - first hand stories of the attack and then of the response we made over the next nearly 4 years.

Eleven years later, we returned to Oahu on vacation, this time with my young daughter.  We visited Pearl Harbor again - but unfortunately, the museum complex and USS Arizona Memorial were closed for their annual maintenance period.  Undaunted, we took the shuttle to Ford Island to tour the USS Missouri, the Iowa class battleship launched during WW2.  On her deck, on September 2, 1945, the Japanese signed the documents for their unconditional surrender, ending World War 2.

This is a photo I took from the bridge of the USS Missouri looking north to the USS Arizona Memorial.  In this picture, we see the key elements of the start and the end of the US involvement in the Second World War.

The fight between the United States, with our allies, and Japan during the Second World War was remarkable in many facets.  It was one of the hardest and bloodiest fights - ranging from massive naval battles where the opposing fleets only viewed each other via aircraft, to point blank range night surface ship battles.  From bloody invasions of atolls and islands few Americans had heard of prior to the war, to prolonged fights in jungles where the conditions were as big of a threat as the enemy.  Fights where the Japanese fought to the bitter end, preferring death to surrender.  This was a fight where the casualties on both sides increased significantly the closer we got to the islands of Japan - and where the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare were needed to bring the Japanese government to accept surrender.

The US had very few successes in the first 6 months of the conflict.  Except for small raids, including the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942, the news from the front was bad.  Starting with the naval fight in the Coral Sea in May 1942, where a Japanese invasion fleet was deterred, to the decisive US victory at Midway in June 1942, where 4 of the 6 carriers which launched the attack on Pearl Harbor were sunk, to the attrition battle around Guadalcanal from August 1942 to January 1943, the US fought with all it had to turn the tide.

In October 1944, in the Battle of Surigao Strait, part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, a US battle fleet utterly destroyed a Japanese fleet attempting to interrupt the landings on the Philippine island of Leyte.  The primary US force in this fleet - 5 of the 8 battleships sunk or severely damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Of the 8 battleships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, only the USS Arizona was beyond salvage.  The USS Oklahoma, raised from the harbor floor in 1943, foundered under tow back to the US in 1947.  The other 6 battleships saw significant action in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters once they were refloated and repaired. 

Today, the animosity and hate of 70 years ago is long gone between the US and Japan.  We are allies today - militarily and economically.

We need to commemorate days like 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 because they are turning points in our history.  Commemoration includes studying the events of the day, the causes for those events, and the reactions to those events - it's part of our history and we need to learn from it.  Commemoration includes paying respect to those thousands who died on both of those days.  To my generation, 9/11 is our Pearl Harbor...but we cannot forget to hear and honor the words from those who experienced Pearl Harbor.

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