(CCU Student) "Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill," went the frantic radio message from Patrol Wing Two HQ on this day 69 years ago. Early on December 7th 1941, Japanese aircraft wreaked havoc on the majority of the United States Navy. The ships in the harbor of Oahu, Hawaii were close together and completely unprepared for an attack of the magnitude that startled the country out of its stupor. The Japanese knew the attack had to be swift and deadly; otherwise, the attempt to cripple the US would have been utterly useless. The attempt did leave the United States reeling, but it truly just served to awaken a slumbering resolve to win.
The attack lasted for approximately two hours and killed or wounded about 3,500 Americans. The U.S. Pacific fleet was decimated in the two waves of attack by the Japanese. The USS Arizona was sunk by an 800 kilogram bomb that struck the forward magazine in the front starboard side of the ship. The resulting explosion and fires killed most of the marines and seaman on board. There were only 334 survivors documented from this battleship.
The USS Oklahoma is yet another ship that shared the terrible fate of that day. She was moored alongside the USS Maryland and took three torpedo hits almost immediately after the attack began. She began to capsize into the Harbor while most of her crew was forced to abandon ship. She continued to be under attack from the Japanese. Two more torpedoes slammed into her already damaged frame, and the men trying to flee the danger were continuously being harassed by the strafing from Japanese pilots. Over four hundred of her crew died or were classified as MIA. Many of the others continued to fight on by swimming to the USS Maryland and taking on battle stations there. I will bet you never saw that in the movie.
The Nevada tried to leave the harbor after being struck, but was beached instead to avoid blocking the harbor entrance after being targeted by the Japanese bombers with 113kg bombs. The California was sunk after taking hits from two bombs and two torpedoes. The West Virginia was incapacitated by seven torpedoes, and the Maryland was hit by two converted 40 cm shells (she didn’t take on any major damage). The USS Tennessee was hit by a bomb in the first wave, but most of the battleships were taken out during the second wave of the attack.
The USS Whitney, much further away from Battleship Row, was one of the first ships to ready for the attack. The crew spotted one of the first Japanese aircraft as it flew right over the G-nest strafing the ship. The men were immediately called to their battle stations, and it only took five minutes to unlimber her .50 caliber machine guns. By 0810 she was unleashing her heavy antiaircraft guns. She also issued ammunition and ordinances to nearby ships as well during the battle. She did not receive any major damage and had no wounded aboard from the attack.
These battleships were the main target, but that does not mean the Japanese force ignored the other ships in the harbor. They also did not ignore the land targets on Ford Island: the surrounding air fields and American bunkers. About half of the United States aircraft on the island had been destroyed or damaged. Some of the destroyers in the harbor were quick in launching a counter attack, including the USS Whitney, with antiaircraft rounds. There were relatively few vessels that day that escaped some sort of action, whether it was to be attacked or to counter the attack. Even fewer were able to do both as most were hit critically by bombs and torpedoes.
That day around 2,402 personnel (American) were killed, another 1,282 were injured, and we had lost most of our battleships and aircraft in the Pacific. Among the Japanese it was another story. They only lost 64 men and 29 aircraft (less than 7% of their operating force). The remaining ships and crew that were relatively uninjured began to assay the aftermath and began the mission to recover the trapped, the wounded, and the dead. The USS Whitney sent out five lengths of hose and two submersible pumps to help the nearby Raleigh (CI-7) and her Doctors went to the Solace (AH-1) to assist with the wounded as there had been none on the Whitney herself.
This attack sent the United States into the midst of world war. It launched the campaign that would, eventually, help put an end to the atrocities occurring in Europe and in the Pacific. The many men who died that day will be forever remembered by those who care. The men who survived that attack should be honored for their courage to remain in the fight and live from that moment on. The saddest part is that the day will pass by quietly without a blink or a nod of appreciation. The world moves on and forgets, but I pray that this year more will take just a moment to remember the fallen and the survivors of that day and the subsequent war.
Please do not let them fade into obscurity.
Note:I feel strongly about this because my great-uncle,Herbert Wynn, Fireman First Class USN, was there that day on the USS Whitney. He died less than a year later on the USS Indiana while testing the engines in Norfolk, VA. Others in my family enlisted shortly after; some lying about their age. I am proud of each one of them.)