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  • Writer's pictureT. Maxwell Smith, PLLC

This Day in History: December 7, 1941, Attack on Pearl Harbor

On Sunday, December 7, 1941 at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST) Japanese aircraft began an assault on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was the beginning of an attack on Pearl Harbor that would ultimately plunge the United States into World War II. The attack was carried out with devastating effectiveness due to the fact that it was completely unexpected and that, at this point in time, Japanese carrier based fighter-bombers were the best in the world.

The attack was designed to cripple the United States fleet in the Pacific and, against the ships that were docked at Pearl Harbor on that day it was extremely effective. On December 7, 1941 there were 53 major ships at anchor at Oahu, Hawaii, including 8 battleships, 8 cruisers, 30 destroyers, 4 submarines, and 3 Coast Guard cutters. Of these ships, 19 were either sunk or damaged. This included 4 battleships sunk and the remaining 4 battleships severely damaged. Additionally, almost all of the ground based aircraft stationed on Oahu were destroyed or damaged in the raid and America’s most established naval base in the Pacific, the headquarters of its Pacific fleet, was in complete disarray.

The Japanese attack failed, however, to complete one critical mission objective, which was the destruction of three American aircraft carriers that were thought to have been docked at Pearl Harbor. The USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, and USS Saratoga were all away for various reasons. Given the surprise of the attack, their presence would have likely not affected the result of the battle and their loss in the raid would have certainly put America at an extreme disadvantage at the outset of the war in the Pacific.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked British held Malaya and Hong Kong as well as the American territories of Wake Island, Midway, Guam, and the Philippines. These campaigns would bring the United Kingdom and the United States into the Pacific Theater of World War II, which would last until Japan’s eventual surrender on September 2, 1945.

In total, 2,335 American service members and 68 civilians were killed during the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, we remember the sacrifice of these people not only because they died defending our nation during a time of war, but also because they died on a day that began in a time of peace. In the early morning of December 7, 1941, those service members knew not of the fight that awaited them, but they were present nonetheless, to defend our nation from attack. Their mere presence in the Pacific so terrified their adversary that it led them to launch one of the most elaborate surprise attacks in the history of warfare. And although that attack was effective, the presence of these service members gave our country the time it needed to band together and to mount a defense that would ultimately result in the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific. What is truly amazing, though, is that since the Attack on Pearl Harbor, despite the knowledge of the potential dangers, thousands upon thousands of American citizens have enlisted to protect our nation and the freedoms that all Americans hold dear.

Keep this in mind today, and be thankful that there are those among us who are willing to put themselves in harms way to protect your freedom as an American.

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