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Pearl Harbor Day
December 7
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Pearl Harbor poster image Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Center. Donation of Dr. Robert L. Scheina, 1970.

December 7, 1941 – "A Day of Infamy"

Much of what our country and our lives are like today was shaped by events that occurred on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.

In the two years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, our European allies were—one by one—falling before the Nazi war machine. By 1941, only England remained free. To our west, Japanese military forces were steamrolling across the Pacific Rim.

Over the course of a quiet Sunday morning on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the United States of America passed from precarious neutrality to all-out war. It was a war fought on every continent of the globe. And it touched the lives of all who lived at that time.

The Second World War came to America in the form of a sudden and massive air assault by Japanese Imperial forces. Early in the morning 183 Japanese fighter planes took off from aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean. They used broadcasts from Honolulu radio stations to help them navigate. The planes arrived off the coast of the island of Oahu, Hawaii, shortly before 8:00 in the morning. Radar at Pearl Harbor had picked up the fleet, but the Americans assumed the planes were B-17 bombers coming from California. Bombs began to drop over the docks at Pearl Harbor along "battleship row." Approximately an hour later 168 more planes appeared dropping more bombs.

The assault claimed 2,403 American lives and left more than a thousand others wounded. The mighty battleship Arizona sustained a direct hit by an armor-piercing bomb, and nine minutes later went down with 1,177 sailors and marines entombed in its hull forever.

Later that morning, when the Japanese fighter planes finally turned out to sea, eight battleships had been sunk or heavily damaged along with many cruisers and destroyers.

American airpower, too, was crippled. More than 325 planes—clustered wing-to-wing on the Harbor’s surrounding airfields—were destroyed. Within a matter of hours, the bulk of America’s naval and air power in the Pacific lay in smoldering ruin.

The devastation left the nation stunned and shaken to its core.

For the people of the United States of America, December 7, 1941 marked the first of 1,351 days of war. It mobilized 16 million young Americans. Almost three hundred thousand of them would die in battle. And more that 600,000 would become its casualties. December 7, 1941 was a defining moment in our nation’s history. As then-President Franklin Roosevelt told the country, it was indeed “a day that will live in infamy.”

Photo of Pearl Harbor attack from WDVA Veterans Museum Oliver J. Haessly collection     Photo of Pearl Harbor attack from WDVA Veterans Museum Oliver J. Haessly collection

Pearl Harbor Day Links

2012 Presidential National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Proclamation

2012 Wisconsin Governor's Pearl Harbor Day Proclamation

2012 Secretary Scocos's Pearl Harbor Day Message

President Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation – December 8, 1941

Pearl Harbor Photos and History

Pearl Harbor Day Fact Sheet

Pearl Harbor National Monument

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association

Library of Congress – Today in History (December 7, 1941)

Map – Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval/Air Stations (December 7, 1941)

Naval History & Heritage Command – Pearl Harbor Resources

American War Library – Pearl Harbor Links

Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Collection

USS Arizona National Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial photo

USS Arizona Memorial – Pearl Harbor, Hawaii