Dec. 7, 1941—at five minutes to eight o’clock, 183 Japanese warplanes devastated the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Today, 63 years later, more than 1.5 million people a year visit the memorial that floats over the sunken warship Arizona to pay homage to the loss of life that occurred on what US President Franklin D. Roosevelt would call “a date which will live in infamy.”
World War II begins for the US
For all intents and purposes, the World War II began for the United States when the first attack wave reached the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Oahu’s Pearl Harbor. Although the U.S. military forces in Pearl Harbor had been recently strengthened, the base was not at a state of high alert. Many people were just waking when the first bombs were dropped. No one was prepared to do battle.
Less than two hours later, 2,280 American servicemen and 68 civilians were dead, 1,109 were wounded, eight battleships were damaged and five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers, and three smaller boats were lost, along with 188 aircraft. The biggest loss that day was the USS Arizona, on which 1,177 crewmen were killed when a 1,760 pound bomb smashed through her decks and ignited her forward ammo magazine causing a terrible explosion. Fewer than nine minutes later she was underwater.
Implications of the attack
Pearl Harbor was the principal but not sole target of the Japanese attack that day. Other military installations on Oahu were also hit. While the attack that day was a huge blow to the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, it was not a total victory for the Japanese. Not only were the attack’s biggest targets, the American aircraft carriers, out of port at the time and therefore saved, but the attack galvanized the nation’s support for involvement in the war, ultimately contributing to the defeat of the Axis powers that included Japan.
You may also want to read about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.