December 7th, 1941 – President Franklin Roosevelt’s iconic speech will forever remind us it’s “a date that lives in infamy.”
The attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces was a tragic wake-up call for America – literally and figuratively. At 7:48 am Hawaiian time, more than 350 Japanese aircraft launched from six aircraft carriers engaged in a surprise attack against the United States.
Up to this point, the American public had been reluctant to enter World War II. But that all changed that sleepy Sunday morning when 2,403 Americans lost their lives. The next day, the United States officially declared war on Japan. On December 11th, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. This began a new phase of the war, setting the U.S. on a course that would make it the victor, and ultimately empower it to shape the second half of the 20th century with values to increase human freedom the world over.
On the 77th anniversary of the attack, here are five things you may not know about Pearl Harbor.
1. Most ships returned to the Navy’s fleet.
Eight American battleships were targeted during the attacks. You might think all were lost – but that’s not the case. In fact, the majority were repaired and eventually returned to active service. Six ships survived. Even the the USS West Virginia and the USS California – which both sunk completely! – were returned to use.
2. Some Japanese leaders opposed the attack.
The attack’s mastermind was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Fleet. But Admiral Osami Nagano, the chief of the Naval General Staff, opposed Yamamoto’s plan. Nagano believed the Japanese air attack may not be strong enough, and he feared the risk associated with such an aggressive operation. Japanese forces were stretched thin with planned missions in Malaya and the Philippines, adding to his uncertainty. But Yamamoto was not swayed – he even threatened to resign if the attack was not approved.
3. The USS Arizona still leaks fuel today.
One day before the attack, the USS Arizona was completely refueled. The close to 1.5 million gallons of fuel ignited the next day’s explosions and fires. Despite that, 77 years later, the USS Arizona STILL leaks fuel – up to nine quarts a day. It’s a haunting remnant of that unthinkable day, and reminds us that its violence still reverberates around the world. Overall, there are approximately 5 million gallons of oil in a plume beneath the Harbor remaining today, covering an area roughly 15 football fields in size. Despite this, the U.S. Navy says it is not a risk to drinking water, and remains environmentally stable.
4. It remains a hallowed burial site.
Many U.S. military veterans who survived that day have chosen to return to Pearl Harbor for their final place of rest. Those who served in the USS Arizona are eligible to have their ashes placed by divers under one of its sunken gun turrets. Those who served elsewhere that day may have their ashes placed on the spot where the ship they served on was located that day.
5. A government shutdown won’t stop us from honoring the fallen.
Military service members stationed at Pearl Harbor today feel a duty to honor the site – even when the government won’t. For two weeks during a government shutdown in 2013, no funding was available to keep up the grounds at Pearl Harbor. But a group of service members and their families rallied to ensure that Pearl Harbor was not forgotten. They mowed grass and pulled weeds – anything they could to continue to honor this sacred site.
On the anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history, let’s take time to reflect on the sacrifices made that day, and the progress we’ve made since then to bring the world toward peace.