Reflections on Pearl Harbor Day

Japan's surprise attack on the US naval base caused the US to enter WWII. As FDR said, it is "a date that will live in infamy:" Op-ed.

Alan Bergstein ,

Mt. Fuji, symbol of Japan
Mt. Fuji, symbol of Japan
Flash 90

I'm writing this in the waning hours of December 7th, 2020: The 79th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Not too many now living in America know very much about that day. I remember it well. Clearly. The year was 1941. I was a Brooklyn 8 year old and awaiting The Shadow radio program that was broadcast every Sunday at 3PM and sponsored by Blue Coal. An announcer broke in to report that that our base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, had just been attacked by Japanese aircraft. My mother screamed out loud. My Dad yelled at us to grab all the second rate stuff we had around the apartment that was made in Japan. In those days, Made in Japan was a common label, much as Made in China is today.Cursing, he threw it all out the window to smash on the backyard concrete.

The next morning my lifelong buddy, Alfred Fischer, who passed away last year, and I, walked the four blocks to PS 97 and we discussed the situation. We knew about the wars in Asia and Europe. We watched Movietone News every Saturday at the Highway Theater, we read the Daily News and Daily Mirror, listened to the radio and collected War Cards that came in gum wrappers. They pictured Jap soldiers bayoneting Chinese babies and burning down their homes. We were scared.

That morning at school, Ms. Rauch, the principal, calmly addressed us in the auditorium. She explained that yes, President Roosevelt had declared war on Japan but that we were to be patriotic, proud Americans and that we would eventually win. We knew we would. After all, our comic book heroes, Bulletman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Superman were on our side. We were 8 year-olds. And we loved to stand by our seats and pledge to the flag every morning in class.

Our neighborhood quickly changed. all the older boys disappeared, either enlisted or were drafted. Joey Pinto, my stickball role model, who lived across the street, died somewhere in the Pacific. Six of my cousins fought in Europe. One came home with the Silver Star. We rallied each and every patriotic holiday at Archie C. Ketchum Square on Kings Highway and West 9th Street, where a WW1 cannon had been in place since I could remember. Guys in uniform, probably veterans, fired off volleys as the flag was raised on these occasions with crowds of people saluting, applauding, crying and singing the National Anthem.

There were no gatherings where we were lectured about how we caused the war and why we were responsible for the hatred of our enemies. This was then.

December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, is not a holiday to be celebrated.

It's a day to bless the greatness of our nation.

It is a day of reflection.

It's a day to recall the sacrifices our boys made to win that war which was foisted upon us. Of the fragility of our freedoms that we ordinarily take for granted.

I think back to those days when we were truly a UNITED States. We were not divided. During that War, Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, fought on the battlefields, side by side as buddies and local and national politics were merely inconsequential side issues to be discussed. Not too important then, when our kids were being killed thousands of miles away.

The years have eroded our history. It's being shredded. That saddens me this day. Joey should not have died in vain.


Background
Pearl Harbor is a U.S. naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, that was the scene of a devastating surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.. Just before 8 a.m. on that Sunday morning, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base, where they managed to destroy or damage nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and over 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, including civilians, and another 1,000 people were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war.

At about 8 a.m., Japanese planes filled the sky over Pearl Harbor. Bombs and bullets rained onto the vessels moored below. At 8:10, a 1,800-pound bomb smashed through the deck of the battleship USS Arizona and landed in her forward ammunition magazine. The ship exploded and sank with more than 1,000 men trapped inside.

Next, torpedoes pierced the shell of the battleship USS Oklahoma. With 400 sailors aboard, the Oklahoma lost her balance, rolled onto her side and slipped underwater.

Less than two hours later, the surprise attack was over, and every battleship in Pearl Harbor—USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee and USS Nevada—had sustained significant damage. (All but USS Arizona and USS Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired.)

FDR's famous speech began with: December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy.



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