By Lt. Col. JIM HENDERSON
Since the 67th anniversary this past Sunday, Dec. 7, of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I have observed much more coverage in the media and the public, than prior to the coming anniversary of the event.
This, I think is a sign of the times. That is, dimming in historical importance and significance? Perhaps just so many other important and pressing issues, such as the economy and current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can remember just a few years back when just the reverse occurred, that is much more coverage and remembrance prior to than post. Regardless of prior or post, the sneak attack and its results make it one of the great defining moments in history. As a history major, Executive Director of the World War II 50th Commemoration in Tennessee (1991-1945), retired veteran and patriotic American, I still believe it is proper and fitting of its remembering and importance in history as I believe most Americans do.
In a little more in-depth look at the sneak attack the following facts emerge: A total of 2,403 persons were killed outright. Of this total, 2,335 were U.S. military. The U.S. Navy had the largest number killed with 2,008 killed in action, U.S. Army 218, U.S.M.C. 109 and 68 civilians died outright. Additionally, 1,178 were wounded.
Close to two-thirds of those deaths occurred in the first 15 minutes of the attack when the U.S.S Oklahoma, U.S.S Utah and U.S.S Arizona were bombed. More than 180 aircraft were destroyed as were a large number of businesses and homes.
Many people have visited the U.S.S. Arizona memorial which serves as the final resting place for many of the battleship’s 1,177 crew members who lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941.
Hardly anyone in the United States, has not heard and remembers a portion of the line from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 6-minute address to Congress the following day, Dec. 8, in which he opened with the statement, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941-- a date which will live in infamy -- the United Sates of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” He also pointed out that “Very many American lives have been lost,” and added, “American ships have been torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu, an attack was launched against Malays, forces had attacked Hong Kong, Guam, Philippine Island, Wake Island and Midway Island.”
Congress then declared that a state of war existed between the United States and the Japanese empire. Four days after Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Ultimately 16,112,566 persons were to have served in the military during World War II, with a total of 291,557 battle deaths occurring, 113,842 other deaths and 671,846 wounded.
It was a pivotal time and absolutely one of the most important and far reaching events, even today, in the history of this country.
It has been noted that more than 1,000 World War II veterans are dying each day. In fact few still survive here in Wilson County.
In the 1998 book by Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, he noted of the men and women who went to war (and this also applies to those on the home front who sacrificed and supported them and our country), “They won the war, they saved the world.”
Editor’s Note: Lt. Col. Jim Henderson is retired from the United States Air Force and also is retired from the City of Lebanon.