On December 7th, 1941, the United States experienced its first real attack on American soil since the Revolution.
The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise assault on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. They were going after Naval Station Pearl Harbor, presumably to loosen America’s hold on the Pacific. Four U.S. Navy battleships were sunk, and others were damaged. 188 aircrafts were destroyed. Over 1,000 people were injured.
Most devastating of all, 2,403 American servicemen were killed.
Canada took immediate action and declared war on Japan the day of the attack. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a speech to Congress the following day, and suddenly the U.S. was immersed in the biggest global conflict in history.
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, or Pearl Harbor Day, has only been recognized since 1994. However, the U.S. has been commemorating the event since 1942. In a State of the Union address on January 7th, 1943, President Roosevelt lifted the spirits of a war-tired America:
“The state of this Nation is good — the heart of this Nation is sound — the spirit of this Nation is strong — the faith of this Nation is eternal.”
How We remember OUR Fallen
There are several memorials dedicated to Pearl Harbor; most notably, the USS Arizona Memorial. It was constructed in 1962 above the sunken hull of the battleship. It is the final resting place of the 1,102 sailors and Marines who were killed there.
The USS Arizona is only accessible by boat, and the memorial is visited annually by more than two million people. The Memorial Visitor Center gives historical information on the attack, and shuttles visitors to and from the memorial. Its entryway is decorated by one of the ship’s three 20,000-pound anchors.
The ship itself features a central assembly room carved with large, open windows on the walls and ceiling, and an opening in the floor overlooking the sunken decks. Visitors are allowed to toss flowers into the water to pay their respects to the fallen sailors.
At the far end of the memorial is a marble shrine with the names of everyone killed on Arizona. The few survivors of the sinking are commemorated on a plaque, and can choose to have their ashes placed within the wreck by Navy divers.
Other memorials include the USS Missouri, the battleship upon which Japanese forces surrendered at the end of World War II. It has been placed nearby Arizona to symbolize the beginning and end of U.S. involvement in the war. Visitors can also tour the USS Bowfin, a World War II diesel submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor on Ford Island.
To learn more about the historic sites of Pearl Harbor, visit:
The unwarranted attack on Pearl Harbor signaled four more years of fighting and losses. On this day, we honor the thousands of American servicemen who lost their lives 77 years ago. Because of their sacrifice, the United States was driven to put an end to World War II, and save millions more.