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December 7, 2007
Remember the day that still lives "in Infamy" (updated)
They are old and bent now, survivors of a storm that swept America into the maelstrom of World War II. For those who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor 66 years ago today, the memories are still fresh, the terror constantly relived as they recall lost comrades and shipmates.
They are few in number. Last year, 500 of them gathered at the Arizona Memorial to honor the fallen and bask in the warmth of friendships renewed - perhaps for the last time. The Veterans Administration tells us that we are losing around 18 of these heroes every month so that by the time the 70th anniversary rolls around in 2011, only a handful will be at Pearl Harbor to represent the more than 2000 Americans who lost their lives that day.
And a horrible day it was. The peace was shattered around 8:00 AM when the first waves of Japanese planes appeared without warning. The following is excerpted from the rememberances of Marine Corporal E.C. Nightingale who was aboard the doomed Arizona and gives us a glimpse at the terror and heroism that went on that awful morning:
"At approximately eight o'clock on the morning of December 7, 1941, I was leaving the breakfast table when the ship's siren for air defense sounded. Having no anti-aircraft battle station, I paid little attention to it. Suddenly I heard an explosion. I ran to the port door leading to the quarterdeck and saw a bomb strike a barge of some sort alongside the NEVADA, or in that vicinity. The marine color guard came in at this point saying we were being attacked. I could distinctly hear machine gun fire. I believe at this point our anti-aircraft battery opened up.
"We stood around awaiting orders of some kind. General Quarters sounded and I started for my battle station in secondary aft. As I passed through casement nine I noted the gun was manned and being trained out. The men seemed extremely calm and collected. I reached the boat deck and our anti-aircraft guns were in full action, firing very rapidly. I was about three quarters of the way to the first platform on the mast when it seemed as though a bomb struck our quarterdeck. I could hear shrapnel or fragments whistling past me. As
"When I arrived in secondary aft I reported to Major Shapley that Mr. Simonson had been hit and there was nothing to be done for him. There was a lot of talking going on and I shouted for silence which came immediately. I had only been there a short time when a terrible explosion caused the ship to shake violently. I looked at the boat deck and everything seemed aflame forward of the mainmast. I reported to the Major that the ship was aflame,which was rather needless, and after looking about, the Major ordered us to leave.
"I made my way to the quay and started to remove my shoes when I suddenly found myself in the water. I think the concussion of a bomb threw me in. I started swimming for the pipe line which was about one hundred and fifty feet away. I was about half way when my strength gave out entirely. My clothes and shocked
"We were perhaps twenty-five feet from the pipe line when the Major's strength gave out and I saw he was floundering, so I loosened my grip on him and told him to make it alone. He stopped and grabbed me by the shirt and refused to let go. I would have drowned but for the Major. We finally reached the beach where a marine directed us to a bomb shelter, where I was given dry clothes and a place to rest."
Soon, they will be gone and only our memory of them and their ordeal will be all that's left of Pearl Harbor Day. It behooves us all to take a moment and recall this, the second worst attack on American soil in our history. No less shocking in its suddeness than 9/11, 12/7 will always be a part of us as long as bravery is honored and the memory of misty eyed old men laying wreaths at the watery grave of a sunken ship is treasured.
John B. Dwyer suggests that it might be a good time to read the entire speech, especially the part about "no matter how long it may take...the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory."
Speech to the U.S. Congress on December 8th, 1941 (as delivered)
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.
The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The People of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the People when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our People - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941 a state of War has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.