It was a quiet Sunday morning in what should have been a dream posting on a tropical paradise. A new flight of planes was expected and radar technicians watched as the blips approached expecting contact for landing vectors any moment. Suddenly, explosions, the roar of Mitsubishi engines and the thunk and splash of bullets impacting dirt, water, and anything else in their way. The attack on Pearl Harbor had begun.
This is the way that Pearl Harbor was always taught in school, a sudden ambush on a fleet at port in a country (mostly) at peace. However, my grandfather who was there might paint a different picture, one that isn’t so detached and clinical as seen from the distance of 50 years (at the time he was telling me) through the lens of text books. Yes, it was an ambush and yes it was the impetus to spring into war but it was not as unexpected as some might believe.
The morning of December 7th my grandfather, a supply sergeant at the time, was stationed at Pearl Harbor as a member of the United States Army. His immediate task was the construction and improvement of a railway system on the island of Oahu to make transportation of men and material more practical. He remembers hearing plains and shooting at dawn while he was getting his work group together several miles away. They of course hurried to base to take up arms and resist, whether expecting an invasion or simply further bombardment was unclear. What he did remember and explain clearly was how the spot where the Arizona had been berthed was suddenly empty, the only signs or her being the top of her conning tower, burning oil, and paradoxically smoke bubbling up from underneath the water; a site he says he has never seen again.
It was stories like these that made me fascinated to learn more about Pearl Harbor and WW2 in general. Stories I likewise heard from my other grandfather who served in the Philippines throughout the war. America was truly a sleeping giant, maybe not soundly asleep but the alarm call of action had finally been heard too stridently to be ignored and with the activity of one fateful morning America finally united in a way the previous years of strife in England had been unable to do and entered the war.
While there are numerous conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbor, my grandfather subscribing to many and cursing Roosevelt until his dying day, there are hard facts as well. This was a seminal point in American, and world history. And, it is a day which truly shall live in infamy. So, this December 7th, give a moment of silence to those who sacrificed on that dark day, those men who were thrown into a conflict unknowingly and yet who came to form a large section of what is known as the ‘Greatest Generation’. Men like my grandfathers, or the fathers and grandfathers of friends and family, men like many you may know who came together after a tragedy and said to the world ‘this far and no farther’.
But most of all, just remember.