Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"A date which will live in infamy"

We visited the Pearl Harbor memorial this past weekend on our trip to Honolulu on the adjacent island of Oahu. The memorial offered a moving and emotional refresher of US WWII history.

On December 7, 1941, over 300 Japanese planes were launched from six aircraft carriers that had secretly crossed the Pacific during the night. They flew in over the mountains pictured below. Their goal was to take out the US fleet in Pearl harbor, especially the battleships. They also bombed several air fields, where the unsuspecting US had planes parked wingtip to wingtip, completely unprepared for battle. Japan hoped the attack would inhibit the US from interfering with the continuation of their controversial takeover of Southeast Asia. Just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked Guam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and several other islands in the Pacific.

2403 American lives were lost in the battle, as well as 5 battleships, 188 planes, and several other cruiser ships. Japan, in comparison, lost 64 men and 29 planes. Although seemingly a huge victory for Japan, they were unable to find any US air craft carriers, which were all out to sea at the time. Historians agree that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a strategic blunder. Most of the equipment lost was dated and obsolete, so the US ended up not being as impaired as anticipated. Furthermore, the attacks outraged Americans and served to unify the previously divided country in its resolve to enter World War II. The memory of the attack ensured that America wouldn't be satisfied until complete victory in Europe and Asia was won.

Upon hearing that the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally drawn the US into the war, UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote "Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful".

Almost half of the Americans lost at Pearl Harbor were seamen aboard the battleship USS Arizona when it sank. The ship remains in the harbor today, still entombing the 1100 men aboard. The memorial was built over the ship, as seen below in the model. You can still see the tall parts of the ship protruding from the shallow water's surface (last two photos).


Allen Christensen said...

You probably know, but just in case. Later that same day, the Japanese launched air attacks against the Philippines that destroyed most of the Army Air Corps aircraft on the airfields. A day or two later, they landed invasion forces onto the islands where your grandfather was assigned in the Army forces there. Thus began the defense of the Philippines in which the US and Philppine Army battled the Japanese for the next 5 months until their final surrender in April 1942 on the Bataan peninsula. The day before the surrender, Papa was captured on a mission behind Japanese lines. He was then taken to where the other surrendering forces were being marshalled, and then all embarked on the infamous Bataan Death March. As I recall, after fighting 4-5 months with very little food and ammo, 12,000 died or were murdered on the march to the prison camps. Papa survived the march and the subsequent 3.5 years in Japanese prison camps. In 1945, as the allies fought their way back and neared the Philippines, the Japanese began evacuating the POWs to other locations in more secure areas of Japanese control. Papa's group were his group of prisoners were put into the hold of a ship that was the last Japanese ship to sail out with POWs on board that was ot sunk by allied air forces who were unaware that POWs were locked in the hold of the ships. His group was eventually taken to Japan, where Papa - an Army captain - was the US commander of a POW camp in the northern part of Japan. They were finally liberated when the A-bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. After several days of feasting on air dropped supplies dropped to the camps by the Army Air Corps, he was taken to China for a time to an Army hospital there, and after days of eating, weighed in at 90 pounds. His normal weight was 185. He was one of the lucky ones who survived this lengthy captivity. For the rest of his life, he avoided war movies, but he did go to see Bridge Over the River Kwai, which he described as an almost perfect depiction of life in the POW camps.

Christine said...

I was extremely moved when the four of us visited the memorial last weekend. Before we were taken to the USS Arizona, they showed us a movie to provide context - almost all of the footage was original. The realities and emotions the movie provided were profound. In addition to all we learned about the attack while visiting the memorial and the museum, there was a significant amount of information on rescue efforts, recovery events, memorial items, and even personal stories (exemplified by this blog post & pictures).

Mr. Christensen - thanks so much for sharing Jessica's grandfather's incredible story.