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Turning Points: One Sunday in December: December '98 American History Feature

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 19, 1998 
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Three a.m. Sunday. Under a star-filled sky, the slowly circling clock hands on Honolulu's Aloha Tower measured the passing of another tropic night.

Despite gathering war clouds, Saturday, December 6 had maintained an illusion of normality for the more than fifty thousand servicemen on Oahu, America's "Gibraltar of the Pacific." During the afternoon, football fans among them had joined a crowd of twenty-four thousand in Honolulu Stadium, where the University of Hawaii "Rainbows" trounced the Willamette University "Bearcats," 20-6. On Saturday evening, officers, including most of the top commanders on the island, had partied with their wives at the Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks, and Pearl Harbor officers' clubs or in hotels at Waikiki Beach. Seeking livelier entertainment, thousands of enlisted men on liberty and weekend passes had converged on the bars, cafes, arcades, tattoo parlors, and bordellos of Honolulu's King, River, and Hotel streets. Many others had cheered and whistled the night away in Pearl Harbor's Bloch Recreation Center, where bandsmen of the USS Pennsylvania bested finalists from three other warships to win the fleet's "Battle of Music." The competitors had entertained their audience with such current favorites as "Do You Care?," "Just One More Chance," and "Undecided."

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The bars, clubs, and recreation center had closed at midnight, and the sky-glow above Honolulu gradually faded. Now, three hours into the new day, the island slept. In Chinatown the neon-bright entrances to a few pleasure-palaces still beckoned; elsewhere along the silent and deserted streets a scattering of early Christmas-season lights glittered. Offshore to the west, twinkling red and green buoy lights marked the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Except for these last few gleamings, there might appear to be no island here at all. All else was darkness and solitude.

A time to rest.

Beyond the reef, out there in the blackness, stretched the silent expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Waters of myth and wonder. A vast stage for epic adventure. The ocean of Drake the circumnavigator, Cook the explorer, and Bligh of the Bounty. Hunting grounds for Down-East whalers like Melville's Captain Ahab and the clipper masters who left their stamp from Maui to Canton.

The mighty Pacific. For many Americans it seemed touched by mystery and romance. With fabled lands and isles that beckoned, and people and ways that beguiled.

But on this deceptively peaceful pre-dawn morning, danger lurked in, on, and above the dark waters. Far over the horizon, thousands of miles west of Hawaii, more than a hundred Japanese invasion ships, tens of thousands of troops, and two thousand aircraft–ranging across the western Pacific from Hong Kong to the Philippines to Malaya to Thailand–were on the move, girding for the battle and blood they would bring to the new day.

In the central Pacific, fewer than three hundred miles north of Oahu, more than a dozen other Japanese warships–aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers–knifed south through heavy seas at a twenty-knot clip. They made up Kido Butai, the secret strike force whose torpedo planes and bombers were scheduled for a fateful morning rendezvous over Pearl Harbor.1 Waters even closer to Oahu concealed sinister movements so stealthy as to be nearly imperceptible.

Rising out of the depths, five Japanese submarines established a picket line north of the island. Four more maintained a watch for American ships and planes to the west of Oahu, and three others to the east. Seven additional boats formed a fanlike web off the island's south coast, so close that the lights of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor were clearly visible. Already, four two-man midget submarines, released from piggy-back clamps on the decks of their mother craft, crept toward Pearl Harbor.2

A time for vigilance.

At 3:50 a.m. watch-standers aboard the U.S. minesweeper Condor, conducting routine operations off Pearl Harbor, sighted what appeared to be a submarine's periscope slicing through the sea a mile and three-quarters southwest of the entrance buoys. The minesweeper blinked a warning message to the destroyer Ward, patrolling the restricted area outside the harbor.

Ward's captain, Lieutenant William Outerbridge, sounded general quarters. For the next half-hour the 1918-vintage destroyer crisscrossed the dark waters. Lookouts saw nothing. Sonarmen heard no suspicious echoes.

Ward's crew secured from general quarters and headed back to their bunks. The incident was duly noted in the ship's log.

At 6:30 a.m. the captain of the supply ship Antares, approaching Pearl Harbor with a barge in tow, was startled to see the conning tower of a broaching submarine about fifteen hundred yards astern. He so notified Ward.

A crewman aboard the destroyer had also spotted the contact; a tiny, half-submerged submarine was following the Antares toward the harbor entrance, where torpedo nets, normally blocking the channel, were now open. Outerbridge, under standing orders to sink any submarine in the restricted zone, again sounded general quarters, ordered all engines ahead full, and turned his ship toward the intruder. When the destroyer had closed to within one hundred yards, her No. 1 four-inch gun fired at the seaweed-covered submarine. Aimed too high, the round just missed. Then, shooting from point-blank range, the No. 3 gun hit the submarine's conning tower. There was a brilliant flash. The stricken craft shuddered and, as the two vessels converged, slipped beneath the surface. Continuing over its swirling wake, the Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges. An oilslick appeared on the roiling waters. Thus were fired the first shots of the Pacific War.

This strange encounter took place fewer than five miles from Battleship Row. Outerbridge radioed word of the attack in code to the commander of the Fourteenth Naval District at Pearl Harbor. Not until 7:37 a.m. did he receive a request for "additional details." Such details would soon become irrelevant.

In waters to the north, meanwhile, a screen of destroyers led the ships of Kido Butai on their relentless southward course.

With dark not yet turned into light, pilots and aircrewmen aboard the six carriers made final preparations. Over their helmets many wrapped hachimaki–white headbands emblazoned with the Rising Sun. Groups gathered about small Shinto shrines.

On the flagship Akagi, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who would lead the aerial attack, reported to force commander Admiral Chuichi Nagumo and announced his readiness for the mission. The admiral rose from behind his desk and shook Fuchida's hand, replying, "I have every confidence in you."

A time to dare.

At 5:50 a.m., with the attack fleet now about two hundred miles north of Oahu, the six aircraft carriers turned into the brisk easterly wind and increased their speed to twenty-four knots. Akagi ran up her battle flag. The hour of destiny was at hand.

After a brief delay, the lead fighter took off just before Akagi made a downward pitch in the rough seas; more fighters, followed by heavily-laden bombers and torpedo planes, left the deck at intervals of a few seconds. As all six ships simultaneously launched their aircraft, the most powerful carrier-borne strike force in history took form overhead. Deck crews, aware that they were witnessing history in the making, cheered and waved as each plane roared by on its short takeoff run and then climbed into the dark sky.

Within fifteen minutes the entire first wave of 183 aircraft was airborne.3 The armada made one last wide sweep over the fleet, then turned due south toward Oahu.

Cruising at an altitude of nine thousand feet, Fuchida, seated in the rear cockpit of the lead plane, flew at the point of a group of forty-nine Nakajima high-level bombers. Most of these three-man aircraft (later nicknamed "Kates" by Americans) bore a single seventeen-hundred-pound armor-piercing bomb converted from a naval projectile. To Fuchida's left and above him flew fifty-one Aichi dive-bombers ("Vals"), each bearing a 650-pound bomb. To his right and below followed forty more "Kates," each with an eighteen-foot-long, sixteen-hundred-pound aerial torpedo. Five thousand feet above Fuchida, forty-three Mitsubishi Reisen fighter planes ("Zeros"), each armed with two cannon and two machine guns, flew cover over the huge formation.

For an hour-and-a-half the strike force droned southward. From time to time Fuchida checked the accuracy of the formation's course by zeroing in on Honolulu's radio station KGMB with his radio direction finder. The station had remained on the air all night to serve as a homing beacon for twelve American B-17 long-range bombers, en route from California to the Philippines and scheduled to reach Oahu at 8 a.m.

A layer of clouds at five thousand feet blocked Fuchida's view of the ocean. He worried that he might not even see Oahu. Then, at 7:35 a.m. Fuchida's radio crackled. Two advance scout planes reported in, one signaling that the American fleet was in Pearl Harbor and that the area had partial cloud cover. Just then, almost theatrically, a rising sun made manifest its strong rays.

Meanwhile, atop a ridge near Opana on the northern shore of Oahu, U.S. Army Signal Corps privates Joseph Lockard and George Elliott manned a mobile radar station, one of six such trailer-mounted units on the island. The radar network operated for only a few hours a day, and Lockard was scheduled to secure the station at 7 a.m. He decided to leave it on a while longer, however, because Elliott wanted more practice in operating the equipment.

A little after 7 o'clock a remarkably strong wave pattern suddenly appeared on the set's five-inch-diameter oscilloscope. What seemed to be a swarm of aircraft was on the move about 130 miles north of Oahu. At 7:08 a.m. the radar operators calculated that the planes were heading their way at approximately 180 miles per hour.

Elliott reported the contact by telephone to the Air Warning Service's recently-established information center at Fort Shafter, near Honolulu. At this hour the center was almost deserted, and Lieutenant Kermit Tyler, a fighter pilot temporarily assigned there for training, was the only officer present.

Based on the limited information he had available, Tyler concluded that the radar echo must represent a group of American aircraft–either planes from the aircraft carrier Enterprise returning from Midway Island, or the B-17s expected from the mainland. "Don't worry about it," he told the radarmen.

By 7:39 a.m. the radar signals at the Opana station showed that the incoming planes were now only twenty-two miles north of Oahu. Then the patterns faded. Minutes later the aircraft crossed the shoreline.

With their arrival also faded America's very last chance to raise its shield.

For the rest of their lives, the Japanese fliers would remember the sudden appearance beneath them of the lush and peaceful island of Oahu, basking in a golden Sunday dawn.

At 7:40 a.m., precisely the instant so meticulously planned during the past ten months, Fuchida slid open his cockpit canopy, aimed his flare pistol skyward, and fired the deployment signal.4

At his sign the formation began to break up as groups of aircraft split off, circled to new altitudes, and then departed on their assigned missions. Skirting Oahu's western coast on a roundabout course to Pearl Harbor, the horizontal bombers flew at ten thousand feet, while the torpedo planes below them descended to just a few hundred feet above the shore. The dive-bombers, meanwhile, turned inland with the fighters toward the island's air bases.

A time to strike.

Two miles above Oahu's northwest coast, Fuchida gazed down at the huge Pearl Harbor naval base through his binoculars. Fifteen miles to the southeast, appearing almost like the miniatures the Japanese fliers had often studied, lay 130 vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The American ships were located just as intelligence reports had said they would be. Most were moored at piers or buoys, or nested alongside other ships; a few rested in dry docks. About seventy were warships–including eight battleships, eight cruisers, thirty destroyers, nine minelayers, fourteen minesweepers, and four submarines. More than a score of auxiliary craft–repair ships, tenders, oilers, cargo ships, a hospital ship, and tugs–were also scattered across the eight square miles of harbor.

The vista was tranquil and picture-like. Fuchida's enjoyment of the scene would have been complete had not his observations confirmed reports that the strike force's most coveted targets–the three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet–were not in port.5

Aided by charts and models of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese pilots had carefully memorized their assignments. Their attack would follow a simple script. Torpedo planes would hit the ships along Battleship Row–the line of quays skirting the southeastern shore of Ford Island–as well as those occupying berths on the opposite side of the naval air station. Flying at only 130 miles an hour, these low-flying aircraft needed the advantage of surprise. After they had done their work, the horizontal bombers would begin their runs.

At 7:49 a.m., Fuchida ordered his radioman to tap out the signal "to! to! to!"–the code phrase directing the fliers to commence their attack.6 Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata, who was to lead the torpedo assault, relayed the order to his forty pilots. With practiced precision, the torpedo planes, now separating into two groups, turned onto their final approach routes.

As Fuchida looked down at the formations converging on Pearl Harbor, he realized that the unbelievable was happening–they were nearing their target unopposed! At 7:53 the elated flier sent out the code words that changed history: "to ra! to ra! to ra!"7 The syllables signified, even before the fact, "Successful surprise attack achieved." His brief message, intended for strike force commander Admiral Nagumo aboard the Akagi, was also picked up aboard Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's flagship Nagato, far to the west in Japanese home waters.

The attackers wanted the skies above Pearl Harbor to themselves. Accordingly, they struck first at Oahu's half-dozen military airfields to destroy on the ground as many as possible of the more than three hundred U.S.

Army, Navy, and Marine aircraft based on the island. Beginning at about 7:48 a.m.–seven minutes before the ship-hunters began their torpedo runs over Pearl Harbor itself–dive-bombers and fighters pounced on the unsuspecting installations. No hesitation. No warning. No mercy.

As they dove at the airfields, the Japanese pilots could barely believe their eyes. Incredibly, the Americans had parked most of their aircraft in neat rows in the open. Concerned about possible acts of sabotage, Army Lieutenant General Walter Short, commander of the Hawaiian Department, had ordered the planes concentrated in the open where they could be more easily protected. But now they were sitting ducks for the unexpected intruders from the skies.

Kaneohe Naval Air Station, twenty miles east of Pearl Harbor on Oahu's windward coast, was the first base hit. Japanese fighters and dive-bombers quickly destroyed or damaged every one of the thirty-three big PBY patrol planes at the station, catching them unmanned on ramps or moored to buoys in the bay. Three of Kaneohe's flying boats away on patrol were the only ones spared. "Our planes were burning," Aviation Ordnanceman Second Class Bert Richmond later remembered. "Men were running, getting guns and ammunition, shouting and cursing."

Wheeler Field, situated on a breezy plain about ten miles north of Pearl Harbor, was the largest American fighter base in the Pacific and headquarters for the nearly one hundred Army Air Force P-40s and P-36s charged with defending the skies above Oahu. Wheeler had U-shaped revetments in which to shield its fighters. But as at the other bases, on this morning the planes stood wingtip to wingtip along the runways.

Waves of Japanese aircraft struck Wheeler like sharks in a feeding frenzy, unleashing bombs, cannonfire, and machine-gun bursts against the lines of parked fighters and the nearby hangars. Dive-bombers pulled out of their runs so low that the fixed landing gear of several snagged telephone wires.

At the sprawling Schofield Barracks, just north of Wheeler, confused soldiers tried to figure out what all the noise was about. Private Robert Kinzler, like many other infantrymen, got his answer by glancing outside: "I could see a Japanese dive-bomber ripping right over the barracks roof." Two artillerymen–Sergeant Lowell Klatt and Lieutenant Stephen Saltzman–emptied clips from their Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs) at the dive-bombers sweeping overhead; one of the planes crashed.

Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, four miles west of Pearl Harbor, became the target of two squadrons of Japanese fighters. The silver-colored planes crisscrossed the field at two hundred miles an hour, fishtailing to whip their bullets into wide patterns. More than thirty of the base's forty-nine fighters and scout planes were destroyed on the ground.

Two-thousand-acre Hickam Field, located just across a guard fence from Pearl Harbor, was the Army Air Corps' biggest base on Oahu and the center there for its bombersquadrons. Successive waves of Japanese planes bombed and strafed the neat, quarter-mile line of about sixty B-17s, B-18s, and A-20s, as well as the base's hangars, barracks, and support facilities.

Standing near one of the hangars, Sergeant William Heydt saw bullets from a strafing fighter transform the man next to him into "a mass of blood, bone, and flesh." A bomb exploded near another running soldier; his friends later found only the khaki-clad lower half of the body. On the lawn in front of the headquarters building lay the body of a master sergeant. A yard or so away, among red hibiscus, was his head.

Hickam–the most heavily hit of the Army installations–would suffer more than five hundred casualties.

Inopportunely, the ferry flight of brand-new B-17s from California–unarmed and nearly out of fuel–began arriving overhead at the height of the melee. Surprised to find themselves the targets of both Japanese fighters and American gunners, pilots of most of the bombers nevertheless managed to skid to a landing at Hickam. Dodging pursuing fighters, a few continued on to other Oahu bases, and one crash-landed on the Kahuku golf course. One of the arriving B-17s was destroyed by Japanese fighter planes; three were badly damaged.

Ford Island Naval Air Station–a patrol plane base, aircraft repair facility, and home for the fleet's carrier aircraft when those ships were in port–lay right in the middle of Pearl Harbor. At 7:55 a.m. Lieutenant Commander Logan Ramsey, standing near a window in its command center, heard a plane dive low overhead.

"Get that fellow's number," Ramsey called to the station's duty officer. "I want to report him for about sixteen violations!"

Looking out the window, the officer surmised that the offending pilot was a squadron commander–because "the plane had a band of red on it."

Seconds later an explosion rocked the base.

"Never mind; it's a Jap!" Ramsey exclaimed as the realization finally set in. He ran to the radio room and dictated a brief message: "air raid, pearl harbor. this is not [a] drill." At 7:58 a.m. Ramsey's historic alert, transmitted in plain English, went out on all frequencies.

Elsewhere on the station, Storekeeper Third Class Jack Rogo saw a fighter fly deck-low past him. He thought it was a U.S. Army plane in some kind of practice maneuver, so he waved to the pilot. The pilot waved back. Then the plane began machine-gunning the flight line.

Nearly half of the seventy aircraft and one of the largest hangars on Ford Island were "burning like a forest fire" before the men knew who–or what–was hitting their base.

Honolulu, meantime, barely stirred.

At the white-walled Japanese consulate on Nuuanu Avenue, bright amid bird-of-paradise blooms and palm fronds, that easeful Sunday dawn seemed just another day's beginning. The sky was a solid sheet of blue, with puffs of clouds here and there. Soft winds blew in over the Koolau range, bearing dampness from the mountains. Such was the timeless way of the Hawaiian Islands. Today was like yesterday, and tomorrow would be like today.

For junior consular official "Tadashi Morimura," however, this day would mark an abrupt end to his carefully practiced routine of the past eight and one-half months. Unsuspected and undetected, the young diplomat–actually an ensign in Japanese naval intelligence whose name was really Takeo Yoshikawa–was on Oahu on a secret espionage mission. In the course of his assignment he had exchanged more than two hundred coded messages with Tokyo, pinpointing the locations of American warships at Pearl Harbor.8

Yoshikawa, however, did not know that, even as he dressed, the fury he had helped to sow was being unleashed.

At a little before 8 a.m. a maid found the usual note on the table in Yoshikawa's cottage, instructing her to prepare his breakfast and then to leave. As Yoshikawa began his morning meal, Japanese dive bombers hurtled down toward Ford Island.

A time for death.

Sweeping eastward past the entrance to Pearl Harbor, then turning sharply inland for the final approach, Murata led twenty-four torpedo planes in from the southeast at an altitude of just sixty feet. In groups of threes, the planes crossed over the Navy Yard and then the harbor's Southeast Loch as they bore down on Battleship Row. There the pride of America's Navy–the California, Oklahoma, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, and Nevada–loomed gray in the golden morning sun.

Simultaneously, sixteen other torpedo planes in groups of two followed a more direct route across Oahu from the west, aiming for the ships moored on the other side of Ford Island as well as those at the Navy Yard piers across the east channel.

As Japanese planners had hoped, none of the battleships had torpedo nets. U.S. Navy tacticians had been confident that the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor–forty-five feet deep at most–would render aerial torpedoes unusable; typically, such weapons sank to seventy feet after being dropped. But after intensive trials the Japanese had succeeded in modifying their weapons with special fins that enabled them to level out only twenty feet below the surface.

Murata's target was the West Virginia, moored alongside the Tennessee at the center of Battleship Row. Far above him, one of the fighter pilots circling over the harbor had been admiring the slumbering fleet–"so beautiful, just like toys on a child's floor." Now the pilot saw "the splash in the water and the torpedo streaking for a battleship, just like a dragonfly laying an egg on the water."

Fewer than thirty seconds after it dropped into the harbor, Murata's torpedo scored a direct hit on the West Virginia.

From aboard the battleships, the attacking planes seemed specks at first. Specks that grew steadily larger and larger as they closed in on–and then zoomed across–Pearl Harbor from several directions.

Something was happening.

To one squinting sailor after another, there came the flicker of disbelief, followed by the jolting shock of comprehension.

"What is that?" . . . "Some crazy Army pilot!" . . . "It's a Navy flier gone crazy!" . . . "Best damn drill they ever put on!" . . . "That ain't no star! That's a red ball!" . . . "Look, look, it's dropping a fish!" . . . "They're Japanese! They're Japanese! Japanese!" . . . "Man your battle stations!" . . . "The Japs are here!" . . . "It's for real!" . . . "It's war!"

Ships' alarms, bugles, and public address systems sounded. Pandemonium and confusion briefly reigned on all 130 vessels in the harbor as thousands of late-sleeping sailors tumbled out of their hammocks, struggled to gather their wits, and then, half-dressed, scrambled toward their battle stations. The just-waking fleet had suddenly become a setting for that most horrifying of nightmares–the terror that comes by light of day.

During the first minutes of the attack, nearly forty torpedoes streaked the surface of Pearl Harbor. Most hit their targets–with devastating effect.

At least six of those torpedoes struck the West Virginia. Three decks forward of the bridge were flattened accordion-like; power, lights, and communications were knocked out; flames and smoke enveloped the superstructure; and the ship's rudder fell into the harbor. As torrents of seawater poured in through the gashes in the battleship's side, she tilted nearly thirty degrees to port and threatened to capsize.

Just in time, Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts, the ship's gunnery officer, led a small party below to counterflood voids on the starboard side. With a measure of stability restored, the smoke-shrouded "Wee Vee," as she was nicknamed, slowly settled more or less upright onto the harbor bottom, leaving her main deck barely above water. More than one hundred of her crew were dead.9

Flying at lower than masthead height, Lieutenant Jinochi Goto drove straight toward the Oklahoma, moored just forward of the West Virginia and alongside the Maryland. He released his torpedo, then pulled up sharply to clear the masts of the battleship. His observer, looking back and seeing a geyser erupt hundreds of feet into the air, shouted "Atarimashita!" ("It struck!")

Somewhere below decks on the Oklahoma, a phonograph was playing "Let Me Off Uptown." Its volume jumped sharply when the explosion shuddered the ship.

Four more torpedoes smashed into the Oklahoma in rapid succession. The battleship began a ponderous, fatal roll to port. Mess tables, lockers, and smashed crockery from breakfast bounded about in an increasingly topsy-turvy world. In the barbettes below the fourteen-inch gun turrets, thousand-pound projectiles broke loose from their fastenings and rumbled down the steeply-inclined platforms, crushing trapped crewmen.

The wife of a Navy staff officer watched from the front yard of her home overlooking Pearl Harbor: "Oklahoma began to roll over on her side. It was awful. Great ships dying before my eyes! Strangely enough, at first I didn't realize that men were dying there."

Within twenty minutes, the Oklahoma had turned bottom-side up and buried her broken masts and superstructure in the harbor floor.

Seaman Stephen Young and about thirty other sailors found themselves trapped in an air pocket deep within the upturned hull. Faint yells told them that other crewmen survived in an adjoining compartment. In the flickering light of a battle lantern and with water up to their chests, the men could do little but bang on the deckplates above them with hammers and hands. Despairing of rescue, one sailor after another died in futile attempts to swim through pitch-black, clogged passages and compartments to the main hatchways three decks below. "God, please get us out of this," Young prayed. It would take twenty-five hours, but rescuers cutting through the ship's bottom with pneumatic hammers eventually freed Young and nine remaining companions.10

More than four hundred men of the Oklahoma died with her–burned, maimed, drowned, or trapped to slowly suffocate in partially-flooded compartments.

Aboard the California, moored alone at the south end of Battleship Row, men of the engineering force had removed manhole covers over the double bottoms in preparation for a material inspection on Monday. When two torpedoes hit the battleship between 8:05 and 8:07 a.m., there was little to impede the in-flood of water. The ship began to settle; despite herculean efforts at damage control she eventually sank to the harbor bottom.

Bombs striking the California added to the carnage. Captain Harold Train glimpsed one that "went through the deck and exploded in the vicinity of the sickbay and killed about a hundred men." Flooded compartments above his repair station trapped Musician First Class Warren Harding deep in the ship until after the attack ended; when he finally stepped into the sunlight, Harding "couldn't believe what I saw. Right in front of me was the quartermaster I had known, and both of his legs had been blown off . . . All around me were pieces of flesh and dying people. There were dead bodies in the water and bodies hanging over the gun turrets." For twenty years thereafter, Harding awoke screaming from nightmares.

On the fantail of the Nevada, moored alone at the opposite end of Battleship Row, a twenty-three-man Navy band and a Marine color guard stood at attention as eight o'clock approached, waiting to raise the colors. Out of the corners of their eyes the men noticed aircraft diving at the other end of Ford Island. Then they heard explosions. The only sensible explanation was that some sort of Sunday practice attack–by U.S. Navy or maybe even U.S. Army planes–was taking place. Promptly at 8 a.m. the bandsmen struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the Marines began to raise the American flag.

The musicians barely saw the Japanese torpedo plane flash in low over the harbor from the direction of the Navy Yard. The aircraft dropped its torpedo, then swept overhead. Its rear gunner fired at the men, missing them but shredding the flag. Maintaining remarkable discipline, all held their positions through the final notes of the National Anthem. Then they ran for cover.

That first torpedo coursed past the Nevada, but seconds later another tore a forty-foot gash in her port side near the bow.

Through good fortune, the battleship had two boilers lighted this morning (one boiler, used for supplying the ship's power, was the norm in port). With a head start in getting up steam, the frantic crew strove to get Nevada underway and–they hoped–into the open waters of the Pacific.

At about 8:05 a.m., Fuchida's high-level bombers began their runs. By this time antiaircraft fire from ships and shore installations began to blotch the sky, rocking the aircraft and punching holes in their skins.

The torpedo-plane pilots had struck at the warships moored on the outboard side of Battleship Row; Fuchida's men would concentrate on the inboard ones. The bombers formed five-plane V-patterns as they swung over the harbor. Crewmen in each aircraft endeavored to release their bombs simultaneously with that of the skilled bombardier in their group's lead plane; the resulting patterns were intended to straddle their ship targets.

The target of Fuchida's group was the Nevada, but obscuring smoke over that battleship made a second run neccesary, this time over the Maryland. After pulling the release-lever in near-unison with his fellowbombardiers, Fuchida stretched flat on the bottom of his plane to watch the pattern of falling bombs, which "grew smaller and smaller until I was holding my breath. I forgot everything in the thrill of watching them fall toward the target. They became small as poppy seeds. They disappeared just as tiny white flashes of smoke appeared on the ship."

One bomb from Fuchida's group penetrated the Maryland's forecastle, but she weathered the day as the least-damaged battleship at Pearl Harbor.

Just aft of the Maryland, the Tennessee took bomb hits on two of her turrets. Shrapnel from one of these struck the bridge of the West Virginia alongside, killing that ship's captain. Although sustaining relatively light damage, the Tennessee was so firmly wedged in by the sunken West Virginia that engineers trying to free her finally had to dynamite the quays to which she had been moored.

The twenty-five-year-old Arizona, moored aft of the Tennessee, exemplified an era when the battleship was the ultimate weapon of the sea. Displacing about 32,500 tons and measuring 608 feet in length, the Arizona carried a main armament of twelve fourteen-inch guns. Thirteen-inch-thick slabs of steel shielded her hull at the waterline. Armor twenty inches thick encased the four turrets.

It took Japanese planes fewer than fifteen minutes to turn the Arizona into a sepulcher–and to end the era of battleships.

Witnesses and surviving crewmen later recalled at least one torpedo hit, but it was a bomb that sealed the Arizona's fate. A few minutes after 8 a.m., a converted naval projectile aimed by Petty Officer Noboru Kanai, one of the Japanese Navy's most skilled bombardiers, hurtled down ten thousand feet and penetrated the battleship's main deck forward of the bridge. The exploding missile immediately ignited furious fires in the forward compartments.11

Nearby magazines held three hundred fourteen-inch shells, thirty-five-hundred five-inch shells, five thousand canisters of powder, and more than one hundred thousand rounds of machine-gun ammunition.

At about 8:10 a.m.–seconds after Kanai's bomb struck–clocks and watches on the Arizona stopped. At that instant, nearly two million pounds of powder and high explosives detonated, creating a mighty fireball of glowing red, yellow, and black gases and obliterating the forward portion of the battleship. "The ship opened up like a fast-action camera flower blooming," a member of the Marine detachment later recalled. To an officer watching from a nearby cruiser, "the explosion seemed to have a focal point, with huge red flames shooting from all angles. It was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen."

Nearly two miles above, Commander Fuchida's plane rocked from the concussion. "It was a hateful, mean-looking, red flame," he observed, "the kind that powder produces. I knew a big powder magazine had exploded."

The ship, said one sailor, "seemed to jump at least fifteen or twenty feet upward in the water and then sort of break in two."

Few men escaped from the forward areas. Seaman First Class Donald Stratton had been manning a gun-director unit above the bridge. He suffered burns over most of his body. A line had been made fast to the mast of the repair ship Vestal, moored alongside the battleship. High above the water, Stratton and five other burned sailors swung hand-over-hand along the line to safety. They could hear others falling through the flames, screaming as they died.

On the flag bridge, both Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd and the Arizona's commander, Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh, were instantly killed. The only trace of Admiral Kidd ever found was his gold Naval Academy class ring–fused to the steel of the conning tower.

Seaman Martin Matthews was hurled into the harbor by the explosion. A youngster who had lied about his age when he enlisted in the Navy, he was but fifteen years old. He recalled: "There were steel fragments in the air–God knows what all–pieces of timber, pieces of the deck, and pieces of bodies. I remember lots of steel and bodies coming down. I saw a thigh and leg; I saw fingers; I saw hands; I saw elbows and arms."

A dazed John Anderson, a second class boatswain's mate, helped lift burned men into rescue launches. His twin brother, Delbert, was dead in the flames. John remembered: "Everything was on fire, the ship was on fire, the water was on fire."

A ship's cook stood on one leg; his other leg lay on the deck. A stunned crewman stared at a shipmate: "His skin was just a black crust, the blood oozing out. The only way I could recognize him was by his voice. He died on the way to the beach, cooked in his own blood."

From the Vestal alongside–damaged by the magazine explosion as well as by bombs–Lieutanant Commander Harley Smart witnessed a scene out of Dante's Inferno: "I could see the men on Arizona walking on deck and burning alive. They had their helmets on. Their clothes were all seared off. They were a ghostly crew as they walked out of those flames. And then they just dropped dead."

The broken battleship rapidly settled to the harbor bottom, her shattered foremast tilting forward and her superstructure enveloped in flame and smoke. More than three-quarters of the Arizona's crew–1,177 officers and enlisted men–died, victims of Japan's mostdevastating blow at Pearl Harbor.12

At the Japanese consulate, meanwhile, Yoshikawa was eating breakfast when he heard explosions in the direction of Pearl Harbor. He hurried to the office of Consul General Nagao Kita, exclaiming: "Noisy morning!" Yoshikawa wanted to go to Aiea Heights, which overlooked the huge naval base, to see what was happening, but Kita ordered him to remain at the consulate.

As smoke rose from the west, a taxicab marked "Royal Hawaiian Taxi Company" entered through the consulate gate. The driver was "Johnny" Mikami, the Japanese-American who had taken Yoshikawa on dozens of intelligence-gathering drives throughout Oahu. "Johnny" had come to take Kita to a golf match. A receptionist informed him that the consul would not be playing golf that morning.

A contingent of Honolulu police placed a cordon around the consulate. Soon the policemen noticed smoke coming from the building. Entering the code room, they found a code clerk burning papers.

One sheet, charred at the edges, bore a sketch of ship locations at Pearl Harbor. The drawing had been made by Yoshikawa. Asked about the drawing as he was being put under guard, "Morimura" calmly replied that he knew nothing about it.13

As Fuchida had ruefully noted, the aircraft carriers Lexington and Enterprise were absent from their berths on the northwest side of Ford Island. Disappointed torpedo plane pilots flying in from the west did what they could with what they found there.

During the opening seconds of the raid, two torpedoes slammed into the port side of the gunnery training and target ship Utah, moored at quays normally used by one of the carriers. Almost immediately, the former battleship took on an alarming list. Crewmen scrambling over her side were crushed when heavy timbers, which had lined the Utah's decks for protection against practice bombs, broke loose and cascaded into the water.

Forty-eight-year-old Chief Watertender Peter Tomich ordered all of his men topside when the Utah began her fatal list. Tomich himself returned to the engineering spaces to make sure that all had escaped–and there he perished when the ship capsized at 8:12 a.m. Tomich's sacrifice was just one of numberless acts of heroism at Pearl Harbor that morning.14

Rescuers cutting through the bottom of the Utah's capsized hull later plucked out one survivor; fifty-eight other crewmen died in the attack.15

Another torpedo dropped by the eastbound planes narrowly missed the light cruiser Detroit, moored at the northwest corner of Ford Island. The Raleigh, just astern of her, was not so fortunate. A single torpedo-hit flooded major engineering spaces; this, combined with subsequent bomb-hits, threatened to sink or capsize the light cruiser.

Still another light cruiser, the Helena, berthed inboard of the minelayer Oglala at the huge "Ten-Ten" Dock across the harbor, was also the target of a torpedo plane approaching from the west. On the Oglala's bridge, a sailor standing next to the captain pointed and said, "There is a torpedo coming, sir." Together they helplessly watched the white track streak directly toward their ship. The torpedo ran underneath the Oglala and hit the Helena in the engine room, killing twenty men. The explosion tore open the minelayer as well; after being pulled clear of the cruiser by tugs, the Oglala rolled onto her side alongside the dock.

The air attack had been under way for half an hour when lookouts on several ships spotted a Japanese midget submarine in the channel to the west of Ford Island.

Gunners on the seaplane tender Curtiss fired a five-inch projectile through the submarine's conning tower. Seconds later the Monaghan, the first ship to get underway during the attack, bore down on the intruder at flank speed. Ignoring a near-miss by one of the sub's two torpedoes, the destroyer rammed it, dropped depth-charges, and sent it to the harbor bottom.

Compounding the confusion, eighteen Dauntless SBD scout planes from the aircraft carrier Enterprise arrived overhead. Nearly out of gas, the newcomers tried to dodge both Zero cannonfire and American ground fire. Five of the planes went down in flames.

By 8:25 a.m. thick smoke covered much of Pearl Harbor. In fewer than thirty minutes, Japan had methodically administered to America the greatest naval defeat the nation had ever known.

Yet, even as planes of the first wave completed their runs, more devastation approached. As soon as the predawn flight of attackers had left their carriers' decks, plane handlers had begun moving the remaining planes up from the hangar decks.

This second Japanese attack wave–169 bombers and fighters–arrived just east of Opana at 8:50 a.m. Fifty-four high-level bombers headed for Hickam Field and Kaneohe Naval Air Station to finish off the American planes on the ground. Eighty-one dive-bombers sought out previously undamaged warships in Pearl Harbor. Thirty-four fighters struck a second blow at the airbases, this time adding Bellows Field on Oahu's east coast to their targets.

A few minutes before nine, the dive bombers arrived over Pearl Harbor. Ships undergoing repairs in the Navy Yard's dry docks now became targets. The battleship Pennsylvania, flagship of the Pacific Fleet, and the destroyers Cassin and Downes occupied massive Dry Dock No. 1.

Captain Charles Cooke, commander of the Pennsylvania, saw "three shining glints high in the air, almost in the sun." The glints were three dive-bombers heading his way.

Hits on all three ships in Dry Dock No. 1 created, in the words of one survivor, "pillars of fire and smoke climbing high into the heavens."

Shipyard workers joined sailors and Marines in fighting fires on the two destroyers. The Navy Yard's photographer, Chinese-American Tai Sing Loo, lent a hand as well: "We had our hoses right at it all the time," he later wrote in fractured English. "Sudden really happen the terrific explosion. People were hurt and some fell down. I noticed steel plate blew over the dry dock." At 9:37 a.m. the Cassin rolled over against the Downes.

Three hundred yards to the west, the destroyer Shaw sat high and dry in Floating Drydock No. 2, somewhat like an automobile on a repair-lift. Two bombs penetrated her main deck and forecastle, severing the bow forward of the bridge. A third bomb blew apart her fuel tanks. Burning oil spread through the forward portion of the ship.

At 9:30 a.m., the Shaw's forward magazine exploded. The huge fireball shot debris a half-mile into the air; one intact five-inch projectile, ejected from the inferno, clanged and bounced past startled sailors on the Ford Island runway. One onlooker saw "great molten fingers twisted in the black smoke, mushrooming into fantastic shapes." At least two photographers caught the cataclysm on film; for millions of Americans these heart-rending images captured the essence of the Pearl Harbor disaster.

"When Shaw blew up," recalled Army staff officer Major Robert Fleming, "I was in Admiral [Husband] Kimmel's office, and I never want again to see a look on a man's face as I saw on Kimmel's."

Meanwhile, at about 8:40 a.m., the Nevada backed away from her berth and then–in one of the most inspiring moments of the day for the Americans at Pearl Harbor–steamed seaward past the burning wreckage of her sister battleships. Air Commander Fuchida, still circling high over the smoking harbor, ordered the arriving dive-bombers to attack. If they could sink the Nevada in the harbor entrance, the ship would block the passage for weeks to come.

A score of bombers swooped down on the escaping battleship. Their first bombs missed, but more planes followed. One. Two. Three. Four. Five bomb hits. "Their bombs jolted all hell out of the ship," recalled Lieutenant Lawrence Ruff. "My legs were literally black and blue from being knocked around by the explosions. Japanese bombs were falling and exploding all around us."

By the time she neared the Navy Yard piers, the Nevada was down by the bow, and fires raged forward and amidships. Concluding that it would be foolhardy to continue under these circumstances, Lieutenant Commander Francis Thomas, who in the captain's absence had assumed command, intentionally grounded the battleship on shoals within the harbor.

The light cruisers Honolulu and St. Louis were berthed a half-mile from where the Nevada ended her sortie attempt. Both cruisers also lit their boilers in hopes of making a run for the sea. But at 9:20 a.m. a bomb smashed the Honolulu's port side, stopping her before she got under way.

Seaman First Class Ray Emory, aboard the Honolulu, fired his machine gun at the attackers. "We did what we could," he later recalled. "We kept firing at whatever came over. We couldn't win that morning. But we could fight."

At 9:31 a.m., the St. Louis, moving at fifteen knots, cleared Pearl Harbor. She was the only capital ship to make it out during the attack.

 

The air bases, still stunned by the first-wave attack, underwent a new wave of assaults.

In response, a few American fighters made it into the air. First Lieutenant Lewis Sanders led a flight of four P-36s into a formation of eleven Japanese fighters. He downed one enemy plane–possibly the first Japanese plane shot down by an American flier in the Pacific war.

Second Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth Taylor knocked down six enemy planes and damaged three more. As ground crews watched, Second Lieutenant Philip Rasmussen battled attackers in his slow, outdated P-36. He shot down a dive-bomber.

While flying a P-40, Second Lieutenant John Dains shot down an enemy fighter. Nearly out of gas, he landed, refueled, and then went up again; his plane was badly shot up by Japanese fighters. After managing to land, he took to the air yet again, this time in a P-36. As Dains flew over Schofield Barracks, ground fire downed his plane. He died in the crash.

A time to endure.

Stunned sailors caught in Pearl Harbor–many of them in skivvies and World War I "soup-dish" helmets–lived out scenes of bravery and horror.

As a line of sailors moved ammunition to crews of five-inch guns on the heavy cruiser New Orleans, Chaplain Howell Forgy repeatedly urged the sweating men to "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." A popular patriotic song would soon memorialize that incident.

Aboard the seaplane tender Curtiss, damaged both by bombs and a crashing Japanese aircraft, Seaman Tom Mahoney saw what seemed to be the figures of five men against a bulkhead–shadows that actually were the charred remains of a gun crew.

Launches, barges, and life rafts bearing burned and wounded men made their way to refuge at Ford Island. "Men were pulled from the flaming bay," recalled Second Class Seaman Victor Kamont. "Some looked beyond help, with burned flesh and bone showing through the oily mess. Some were half clothed, raw meat hanging from their bones. Some cried like babies, babbling for their mothers, fathers, or loved ones."

A Marine Corps major saw "two hundred or three hundred men in forlorn groups, all burned like steaks. Their mouths were reddish; their eyes looked watery. Everything else was black."

Hundreds of wounded rapidly overwhelmed the facilities of the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, Honolulu's civilian hospitals, and makeshift first-aid shelters. Fort Shafter's hospital was so overcrowded that some amputations had to be carried out while the patients still lay on their stretchers. Trucks serving as ambulances were "loaded with wounded people, blood running out of the back." Dr. John Cooper, serving as an emergency surgeon at Tripler General Hospital, later recalled that "there were legs and arms in twenty-five to forty large GI galvanized cans, waiting for disposal."

The civilian population of Oahu was as stunned by the Japanese attack as were the U.S. military personnel.

Santiago Reyes, a sugar-cane cutter at Aiea Heights, looked up: "I saw the planes bombing. They were so high I could not notice the place they came from."

"Our valley all seemed to be so peaceful there in the morning sun," recalled Ethylene Myrhe of Manoa. "But from Pearl Harbor came 'Boom! Boom! Boom!'"

Honolulu's mayor, Lester Petrie, calmly watched what he thought was just another mock attack: "The smoke was going right over the entrance to the harbor, and I thought that was a perfect demonstration."

Swimmers at Waikiki Beach could see smoke in the sky over Pearl Harbor, twelve miles westward. A flight of planes swept in past Diamond Head, heading toward the smoke. The air-raid "practice" seemed very realistic.

An elderly Japanese-born resident of Hahiawa, near Wheeler Field, shook his fist at a rifle-bearing U.S. Army military policeman: "You wanna play bomb, bomb your place!"

It took the voice of Webley Edwards, the popular broadcaster of radio station KGMB, to convince listeners that this was real and not a practice attack. Over and over he announced: "Attention. This is no exercise. This is the real McCoy! The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor. This is the real McCoy!"

Howard Case, city editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, recalled "a pillar of smoke over Pearl Harbor like an evil jinni. At the newspaper office the phones never stopped ringing. We had reports of Japanese parachutists dropping on the island, of a Japanese invasion fleet coming in over the horizon, and even Japanese tanks running around the cane fields."

In a small house in the Kalihi Valley, a midwife assisted Mrs. Vun Min Lee in giving birth while bombs rumbled in the distance. The baby girl weighed seven-and-a-half pounds. Her parents later registered her at the health department as "Pearl Harbor Lilineo Malia Lee."

The bombers flew over seventeen-year-old Daniel Inouye's home while he was dressing for church.16 "You could see the black clouds–from the ships burning. My father's face was contorted. He stood there looking at the Japanese planes overhead. Then he called out, 'You fools!'" Young Daniel, a Red Cross volunteer, helped to care for casualties at a first-aid station. "The doctor in charge was a Japanese," he recalled. "The chief nurse was a Caucasian. We had three nurses–one Chinese, one Japanese, one Caucasian."

Martin Vitousek, also seventeen, was returning from a Sunday morning flight around the island with his father in a two-seater Aeronca monoplane. They were two thousand feet above John Rodgers Airport (now the site of Honolulu International Airport) near Pearl Harbor when they saw Japanese warplanes below them. They circled for half an hour, trying to find a way to get down: "Two torpedo planes passed us, and the rear gunner of one fired at us as they went by. We landed and ran for our lives."

On the slopes of Punchbowl crater, Maile Kearns and her husband had just spent their first night in their new home. Of that Sunday she recalled: "I was in the living room. The house seemed to leap from its foundation. The ceiling fell around me and I saw daylight coming through a hole in the front wall." An unexploded U.S. antiaircraft shell had plummeted through their roof and front wall. Despite losing their home the Kearnses were fortunate: projectiles returning to earth elsewhere killed about sixty civilians.

By about 9:50 a.m., barely two hours after the attack began, it was over. The Japanese planes withdrew, diminishing into specks as they moved over the horizon. In a final act of deception, they flew off in several directions, confusing the Americans as to whence they had come.

By noon, all Japanese planes that could reach their carriers had done so. The elated pilots savored the taste of the kill. Commander Fuchida, sure of their fighting prowess, pleaded with Admiral Nagumo for permission to launch a third attack at once.

For nearly an hour the prudent admiral pondered the notion. Quite likely, the fliers could wreak even more havoc upon Pearl Harbor. But a third attack was not part of the original plan. Nagumo concluded that Kudo Butai had achieved its goal: batter the U.S. Pacific Fleet so badly that it could not thwart Japan's onslaught against Southeast Asia.

At about 1 p.m., he ordered a signal flag raised on Akagi's mast. It was the sign for the Japanese attack fleet to turn back for home.

To look at Pearl Harbor–to consider what the Japanese had wrought–was to witness a scene of incomprehensible devastation. The Arizona, her back broken and superstructure aflame, sat on the harbor bottom, as did the West Virginia. The Oklahoma and Utah lay capsized. The California was sinking; the Nevada aground. The Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Maryland all showed damage from bomb-hits. The Raleigh was barely afloat; the Honolulu and Helena were both damaged. The Oglala lay on her side; the Vestal was beached. The Curtiss's deck was smashed. The Shaw, her bow gone, smouldered in her half-submerged drydock. The Cassin and Downes were both shattered. The New Orleans and numerous other ships were perforated by shrapnel.

Hangars on Ford Island blazed, and remnants of dozens of aircraft lay in charred heaps. Oil, debris, and bodies floated in the harbor.

Elsewhere along the shores of Oahu, plumes of smoke rose from the battered air bases.

It was nearly evening that Sunday when Ensign Kleber Masterson and another officer guided a launch to the Arizona. "We went over to the burning hulk of our ship," he later remembered, "what was left of it, and hauled down the American flag. It was the big Sunday ensign flying from the stern, and it was dragging in the water and getting all mixed up with oil. So, just at sunset, we took the flag down."

 

A time to remember.

The U.S. government would take weeks to reveal to the American people the full extent of the Pearl Harbor disaster.

The figures bespoke Japanese triumph.

Eighteen American warships sunk or seriously damaged–eight of them battleships; Japan lost five midget submarines.

More than 160 American warplanes destroyed and nearly as many more damaged; Japan lost twenty-nine of her attacking planes.

More than 2,400 American sailors, soldiers, fliers, Marines, and civilians killed and more than 1,170 wounded; the number of Japanese dead was estimated at sixty-four.

Pearl Harbor had not been a place of battle that day. Rather, the Japanese had turned it into a setting of mass execution.

 

At the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, corpsmen tried to identify bodies and parts of bodies. A makeshift morgue was set up at Aiea Landing–at the base of Aiea Heights, the vantage point from which Takeo Yoshikawa had made so many dispassionate observations of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Boatswain's Mate Second Class Nick Kouretas of the Raleigh was among those assigned to cruise about the harbor in motor launches, searching for remains: "We would lasso a leg, an arm, a head, and maybe tow four or five or six bodies behind us slowly in the launch over to the landing." There, corpsmen waded into the water with sheets to scoop up the bodies.

Fireman Dan Wentreck of the Nevada served on a burial detail: "We had a bunch of pine boxes that'd been made up that we would put them in. A lot of times we had a bunch of pieces. We'd just put them in a box. Then we loaded the box on a truck, and we would take them to the cemetery."

At Oahu Cemetery, Marines stood guard as bulldozers scooped out trenches 150 feet long. Into them corpsmen laid the blood-soaked boxes, side by side.

The Japanese war-makers had their way on that unforgettable Sunday morning. They had taken a mighty gamble and come away with rewards that seemed, at first look, in keeping with the magnitude of their daring and deceit.

And yet, loose ends remained. The vast fuel storage tanks at Pearl Harbor, with their millions of barrels of oil, had been left untouched. The sprawling Navy Yard, with its shops and repair facilities, had survived. The naval ammunition depot and the submarine pens had not been hit. Scores of smaller warships had escaped without harm. And, crucially, the attackers had failed to locate and destroy the Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers.

But far more tellingly, there was the matter of the American people. Theirs had been a Sunday of disbelief, horror, tears, fury, and–in that long day's ending–bitter resolve.

When the news of the air raid on Pearl Harbor reached Tokyo, the Japanese people broke into jubilant celebration. The Japanese had made their statement. The Americans, in time, would make theirs.

They would remember Pearl Harbor.

As daylight faded that Sunday in Washington, D.C., the weather turned colder. People gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue and looked through the fence at the White House. The lights on the portico went dark. Some of the people sang "God Bless America."

A gas mask was placed on the arm of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wheelchair. Marines with bayonetted rifles took up positions around the Capitol. Preparations were made to transport the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to the vaults of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

On the morning of December 8, Marine Private Leslie Le Fan of the Pearl Harbor Naval Station was a member of the six-man honor guard at one of the burial sites. Decades later the scene remained clear in his memory: "We had our rifles, and were given three rounds of blank ammo to fire the salute. The chaplain, who was a captain in the Navy, gave a prayer. His words came, at the end, with tears in his eyes.

"Believe me, these were grown sailors and Marines standing there, unashamedly crying. They had lost buddies; they had lost friends; they had lost ships.

"The chaplain said, when he wound up, that 'we are beaten to our knees, but we shoot pretty good from that position. With God's help, we will win this war.'

"Foremost in my mind, right then, was: 'These Japs aren't going to get away with this!'"

They were, most of those dead at Pearl Harbor, in their twenties–some younger. They had called one another, and themselves, "swabbies" or "leathernecks" or "ground-pounders" or "airdales." And they used those names with a bit of a swagger.

"It was a beautiful Hawaiian morning," a soldier would long remember of that new Sunday, "pink and blue, and we were young."

When dusk finally arrived on Oahu, Pearl Harbor still burned. And none who were there were still young.

December 7, 1941.

New York writer Edward Oxford is a frequent contributor to this publication.

 

Footnotes

1These included the aircraft carriers Akagi (flagship of the force), Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku; the battleships Hiei and Kirishima; and the cruisers Abukuma, Chikuma, and Tone.

2A fifth midget submarine of the "Special Attack Force," delayed by a malfunctioning gyrocompass, was not launched until about 5:30 a.m.

3One additional aircraft crashed during takeoff.

4At this point occurred the only serious miscue of the mission. Fuchida had arranged to fire one signal flare if he believed surprise was being achieved, in which case the torpedo planes were to strike first. Two flares–if resistance was expected–would order the dive-bombers to attack first. Fuchida fired one flare; then, when some pilots failed to see it, had to repeat the signal. Seeing both flares, the commander of the dive-bombers deployed his aircraft simultaneously with the torpedo planes.

5The Enterprise, returning to Hawaii after delivering Marine fighters to Wake Island, had been slowed by bad weather and was still about two hundred miles west of Oahu on the morning of December 7. The Lexington was en route to Midway with a squadron of Marine scout bombers. The Saratoga was on the U.S. West Coast.

6This was an abbreviation of the Japanese word totsugeri–meaning "charge!"

7This prearranged code signal was based on the Japanese word meaning "tiger!"

8See "Intrigue in the Islands" and "Prelude in the Pacific" in the July/August and September/October issues of American History Illustrated.

9After salvagers eventually refloated the West Virginia, more than sixty dead were removed from flooded portions of her hull. Calendar notations near three bodies in a partially flooded pump room indicated that the trio had survived until December 23.

10In all, thirty-two men were pulled alive from openings cut in the overturned hull of the Oklahoma.

11Navy investigators later concluded that an open hatch allowed the bomb-caused fires to almost instantaneously reach a magazine containing volatile black powder used in the ship's saluting batteries. The explosion of this small magazine in turn detonated the main magazines.

12For more on this battleship and the memorial honoring its dead, see "USS Arizona: The Memories Do Not Die" in the December 1988 American History Illustrated.

13American investigators remained unaware of Yoshikawa's role as an espionage agent until after the war ended.

14Peter Tomich was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor–one of fifteen U.S. Navy men at Pearl Harbor to receive that award for extraordinary heroism. The Navy was unsuccessful in locating any relative of Tomich's. His medal remains in a file cabinet in Washington, D.C.

15Many of Utah's fifty-eight dead remain entombed in the target ship, which was never salvaged.

16Inouye is now senior U.S. Senator from the state of Hawaii. He lost an arm while fighting in the World War II European theater as a member of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Reading Notes: The definitive works on the Pearl Harbor attack, based on decades of research and a multitude of interviews, are At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange (McGraw-Hill, 1981); Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History, also by Gordon W. Prange, with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (McGraw-Hill, 1986); and December 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor, by the same authors (McGraw-Hill, 1988). A more concise but nevertheless authoritative account is Michael Slackman's Target: Pearl Harbor (University of Hawaii Press, 1990). An important work is Edwin T. Layton's "And I Was There": Pearl Harbor and Midway–Breaking the Secrets (William Morrow, 1985). A well-known narrative, based on many interviews, is Walter Lord's Day of Infamy (Holt, Rinehart, 1957). Also information-packed is Air Raid: Pearl Harbor, Recollections of a Day of Infamy, edited by Paul Stillwell (Naval Institute Press, 1981). For recently published books of interest, see "History Bookshelf" on pages 32-34.

 



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