In for a Penny, in for a Pound
December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor – Japanese aircraft temporarily disabled every battleship and most of the aircraft in the Hawaiian area. Other naval vessels, both combatant and auxiliary, were put out of action, and certain shore facilities, especially the Army airbases, Hickam and Wheeler Fields, the Naval air station, Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay were damaged. Most of the ships are now back with the fleet. The aircraft were all replaced within a few days, and interference with facilities was generally limited to a matter of hours.
That was from an initial Navy report days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a bit of an undersell—meant to belie the true situation to the American people and more importantly our enemies. In truth, the attack was extremely successful. Within the span of 90 minutes, 2,386 Americans perished and 18 ships (including five battleships) were sitting on the bottom of the ocean, either sunk or run aground.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it as, “A day that would live in infamy.” True to his words, we remember the black eye America received that day. However, that was not the end but rather the beginning of America’s woes. Four days later on December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Plunged into World War II, the U.S. had little choice but to declare war on the two remaining Axis powers—in for a penny, in for a pound.
America had resolve. Our eye blackened and nose bloodied, we rose up, fought fiercely and valiantly and emerged a world superpower. Many point to this fact and credit Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto with having foretold our future when he famously said, “I fear all we have done is awoken a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve.” Truer words may have never been spoken, but according to historians, these words were never uttered by Yamamoto either. They are a bit of history created by Hollywood in the movie Tora!, Tora!, Tora! Neither Japanese nor American historians can find any proof otherwise.
A better quote—that is not fiction—came from Admiral Hara Tadichi of the Imperial Japanese navy, “We won a great victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.” It is one thing to declare war, it is quite another to inflict mass casualties, without warning and before war has been formally declared. Likely the only other truly comparable event to Pearl Harbor was the attacks of 9/11. While not a direct comparison in deed or response, the way the attacks rallied Americans to a united response is noteworthy.
However, those were days where we (arguably) had stronger leaders in office and America was not as war-weary as it is today. The number of survivors of Pearl Harbor, and WWII in general, has naturally dwindled. As each veteran passes to be reunited with loved ones and service mates, the memory of their heroism and loss on December 7th seems to dwindle and pass as well.
If you know of a Pearl Harbor survivor or WWII veteran, please take time to call and thank them for their service. They were, and are, members of the “greatest generation” and their deeds and acts are the stuff that today’s warriors base their own actions. None set out to defend their country in search of glory or fame. All write a blank check payable for any amount up to and including their own lives. None expect to receive a check and be paid millions of dollars for a few months work—as do many of the actors portraying these heroes in the movies.
Be sure to thank the modern-day warriors as well. Far too many Americans can recite a movie quote believing it to be history or mourn a life of a movie actor taken too soon. Let’s not forget the unsung heroes; the real history makers. Let’s remember who and why this is a day of remembrance that will live in infamy…