Pearl Harbor-“infamy” and end of innocence

Pearl Harbor-“infamy” and end of innocence

By By Joe Baker

Pearl Harbor-“infamy” and end of innocence

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

It was a Sunday much like the one we just had. In the Midwest, snow was on the ground, but the weather was mild. In the Hawaiian Islands, a warm breeze swept across Honolulu and Ford Island.

But it was a day when the world, especially for Americans, would change forever. For anyone alive in 1941, that day will never be forgotten. Most Americans got the word by radio as they planned for Christmas or read the Sunday papers. The shock reverberated across the nation though few knew where Pearl Harbor was.

For the men at Pearl, the event was both surrealistic and terrifying. The day had started out calm, peaceful and beautiful. S/Sgt. Woodrow Clark, a Mississippi boy, was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the control tower at Hickam Field.

“At about 7:30 [a.m.], we noticed planes coming in over Koolau Mountain, to the east of Honolulu, making a beeline for the Pearl Harbor area. They started dropping chemicals or bombs or something–we did not know what.

“We saw black smoke start pouring up out of the harbor. Some men in the tower said: “Well, it looks like the Navy is getting ready to smoke screen out Pearl Harbor again.” But I said: “That’s not white phosphorus that’s coming up. That’s black smoke. Those are enemy aircraft.”

Aviation Machinist Mate First Class George Phraner was aboard the U.S.S. Arizona that day. He and some of his shipmates had just finished breakfast.

“Just as we left the mess area, we heard this noise. We went outside to take a look because it’s usually very quiet. When we arrived, we could hear and see there were airplanes. I looked across the bow of the ship and could see large plumes of smoke coming up from Ford Island.

“At first, we didn’t realize it was a bombing. It didn’t mean anything to us until a large group of planes came near the ship, and we could see for the first time the rising sun emblem on the plane wings. The bombing was becoming heavier all around us, and we knew this was REALLY IT!”

Californian Art Wells, a Marine Private First class–then just 19–was aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania. The vessel was in the thick of the fight, using what weapons it could against the swarming Japanese planes.

“With the ship shuddering from the constant concussions caused by the firing of her 5-inch and 3-inch guns, and the explosions of bombs and torpedoes in the harbor, I didn’t consciously feel, hear, or see the gigantic explosion that demolished the Arizona. Only minutes after the attack had begun, the dreadnaught turned into a mass of twisted, torn, and fire-scorched steel.”

It was over in about an hour. The attackers wheeled their planes around to the north and flew off to rejoin their battle group some 230 miles from the scene. They left behind an unbelievable scene of death and destruction. The attack marked many men for life, not all of them in a physical way. Men like Seaman First Class Glen Turner, serving aboard the U.S.S. California.

“The days after the attack were ones of frustration, working parties and fear of a Japanese invasion. The worst experience by far was going back aboard ship on December 8th to remove the bodies of my shipmates. Recovering burned and mangled bodies has left an indelible mark on my mind that refuses to go away.”

Back home on December 8th, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of “a date that will live in infamy” and asked Congress to declare war on Japan. It did so.

The nation had been jolted out of its isolationist slumber and forced to confront the world. Never again could we rely on the oceans to protect us from foreign enemies. And there were those who hold that Roosevelt had deliberately provoked the Japanese into attacking in order to get us into the war that had erupted in Europe and allow him to directly aid his friend, Winston Churchill. They also assert Roosevelt knew well in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack, and he did nothing to avert the massacre to pull us into a two-front war.

For the Japanese, it was U.S. moves to shut them off from oil and other badly needed resources to complete their designs of Asian homogeny that tipped the scales toward war. They were no match for U.S. industrial might and, in the weeks following the surprise attack, the battle cry “Remember Pearl Harbor,” galvanized American workers into a frenzied output of war materiel.

The war rearranged political alliances and extended American influence in the Pacific, but nothing is static. Today, more than 50 years later, our influence is lessened along the Pacific Rim and Japan and China wield greater clout. China, in fact, is emerging as the dominant power in that part of the world. Will the island of Taiwan become another Pearl Harbor under the design of Chinese homogeny in Asia?

As they examine such modern parallel questions, historians and scholars still are examining the events of those years. More governmental documents are becoming available for study. What lessons they will extract remain to be seen; and perhaps, they will answer the queries: “Who really loosed the dogs of war?” on Dec. 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy” for whom?

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