Tomorrow marks the 75th Anniversary of the day the world changed! "A day that will live in infamy". It was a bright early Sunday morning and the Pacific was at peace. Then out of nowhere a whole fleet of Japanese torpedo, fighter and dive bombers rained down steel on the US Navy. Chaos. Never again the same.
Your author was only four years old at the time and has no personal memory of announcements of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My first awareness of events came during the World War II years that followed. I do remember terse times in our household following my dad going down to the draft board and trying to volunteer. Mom would catch wind of that happening and team up with County Agent Clyde Noyes to insure that his agriculture exemption still kept dad from serving. Dad had earned his civilian pilot license by that time and wanted to volunteer to be a flight instructor for budding military pilots. Agriculture was deemed a war critical industry at the time and much to his regret and mom's relief, the ag exemption continued to hold.
Then to our farm came German Prisoners of War, POW's, to do manual labor hoeing sugar beets, picking up potatoes. Young men, once enemy soldiers captured in Africa and later Italy, were "kid starved" and welcomed the presence of my younger brother Tom and me hanging around the fields where they worked. They'd bring us hard candy from their PX sharing the largess from their earnings of something like 75 cents a day. One I remember short wiry and balding had evidently been a magician and had an ability to blow cigarette smoke out of both his ears. Few spoke any English but as always communication between young men and kids was never a barrier. The Japanese POW's, I understand their closest camp was in Scottsbluff, were an entirely different story--they never gave up the fight!
I do remember, age nine years by then, my father coming home all excited. "They dropped an atomic bomb on Japan" he shouted! At the time no clue as to what was an atomic bomb but then our world really changed. American had become the true leader of the world. No more major wars but "minor" actions where we lost, Korea, Vietnam, in which I participate and the current mess in the Mid-East. We won the cold war remnants of which continue. America must never again be lulled into the complacency that abruptly came to an end at Pearl Harbor.
Back to 1941. The world was in turmoil. Hitler had invaded Poland, was marching across Western Europe and headed east into Russia. England was in a death struggle--we were quietly helping. Italy was allied with Nazi Germany. Japan was rampaging in the far west Pacific but the United States felt secure with vast oceans protecting us from the world's turmoil. Isolationism was reigning supreme in domestic politics. We had chosen to ignore the world's problems as the great depression was the center of our attention at the time.
Imperial Japan desperate to expand their empire and acquire access to the raw materials so vital to feeding the industrial powerhouse they coveted. There were opposing voices who foresaw danger. Notably, one Isoroku Yamamoto Japanese Marshal Admiral and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II had studied and toured in the United States in the early 1930s.
Yamamoto had seen that the United States had many times the industrial capacity of his beloved Japan and that they could not win a prolonged war. Yet he, as a true Samurai warrior, understood that there is no honor in sneaking up and stabbing the heart of a sleeping enemy.
One must first kick the enemy's pillow to awaken him then stab into his heart to kill him. Yamamoto envisioned striking a deadly blow to America's vaunted Navy then hopefully the United States would curl up to lick its wounds, withdraw from the Pacific and leave his Japan to its need to create its industrial powerhouse in home territory. Pearl Harbor was the perfect place to strike.
The Imperial Japanese Navy's mission to Hawaii was exquisitely planned and executed. Six of the best aircraft carriers in the world at that time were gathered with a supporting fleet of cruisers, destroyers, battleships, 20 warships in all. They sailed twelve days across the Northwestern Pacific in complete radio silence. Still undetected they launched their 350 aircraft and rained complete havoc on the American fleet at anchor in Pearl. Unfortunately for the Japanese they did not know the three American aircraft carriers would be out to sea and not present at Pearl. For some reason they also left untouched the huge fuel storage tanks so vital to supporting a modern military force.
Did America respond as the Imperial Japanese Military so vainly hoped? No way! Their attack only strengthened our resolve. Within 24 hours our Congress gathered to declare war in the Pacific and a few days after declared war against the Axis Powers in Europe. Surely Admiral Yamamoto's sentiments ran to "I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant!" (Actually he never said it but quoting from the movie "Tora, Tora, Tora"). In defense of Yamamoto's Samurai born (kick the pillow) honor a declaration of war was to have been delivered in Washington D.C. by Japanese officials one hour before the attack commenced but their bureaucrats muffed the timing so the attack was a complete surprise.
So tomorrow we will pause to remember the attack against Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941. Prayers for the 2403 military personnel that died that sleepy Sunday morning so long ago of those 1177 on the Battleship Arizona alone. Prayers also for the 418,500 total military and civilian personnel who died in winning World War II. There are very few World War II veterans left alive today so if you know one it is still in order to offer your thanks for making us safe in the world that so abruptly changed that day so long ago.
Incidentally, a McCook's resident is known as an expert on the Battle of Pearl Harbor. Don Schaaf has made it a life ambition to school himself on all the action that took place that day. For nine months in 2000, he volunteered as a seasonal U.S. Park Ranger, lived in Hawaii and conducted public tours of the Pearl Harbor Memorial. He related that one day a visitor had asked him a question about some aspect of the battle that he could not answer. Returning to base, he asked his supervisor that same question. The sup's answer, "For questions like that I go to this website for the answers." Don's response, "Yes I know that is my website!" Tip of the hat to Don.
That is how I saw it.