As the sun began its ascent into the sky, it was the start of a beautiful day of rest and relaxation for many of the servicemen stationed at Pearl Harbor. Those who had worked throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning were eager to begin a quiet Sunday. Many of the men just starting their duty enjoyed a hearty breakfast as they faced what was supposed to be a quiet day ahead.
Unbeknownst to any of the sailors, Marines, and pilots stationed at Pearl Harbor and the surrounding airfields, a fleet of Japanese ships had reached its mark hours earlier, and launched a wave of fighters and bombers.
At what many Navy ships’ logs timed as 0755 that Sunday morning, the Japanese aircraft dropped the first bombs. Immediately, the sky flashed orange and smoke began rising from the harbor. Confusion spread quickly as those further from Pearl Harbor who witnessed the planes flying near the ground initially believed it to be an American training exercise. Then, machine gun fire pelted the ground and more bombs dropped.
It was a nightmare scenario, one that many survivors relived for the rest of their lives. The sounds of explosions, the crackling of fire, the screams of their fellow servicemen – noises forever burned into their brains. The attack on Pearl Harbor left lasting memories, not just in the servicemen who were present that morning, but all across the United States.
In addition to leaving over 2,400 Americans dead, the surprise blow sucked the United States into World War II, a conflict it had done its best to avoid becoming involved in. It changed the American mindset from one of isolationism to something far more active engagement. An attack as destructive as that on Pearl Harbor is bound to change everyone it touches, and it touched the United States in very profound ways.
Remembering the Tragedy
When something as monumental as the Pearl Harbor attack occurs, it immediately becomes a part of national history. Thanks to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites, the site of the devastation of December 7, 1941 has become a place for the world to honor and remember the servicemen who were lost during the two-hour attack.
A complete history lesson awaits at Pearl Harbor, starting with the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Still a place where Pearl Harbor veterans gathered to tell their story, the Visitor Center is brimming with artifacts displayed in two exhibits: “Road to War” and “Attack!” These provide the background for the centerpiece of the National Monument – the USS Arizona Memorial.
Built over the wreckage of the USS Arizona, a battleship that was sunk during the attack, taking over 1,100 sailors with her, the memorial visually depicts the highs and lows of the United States before, during, and after Pearl Harbor and World War II.
Getting to Know Pearl Harbor
There are many other sites to visit at Pearl Harbor—including the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum—and the best way to get to know them all is on one of the many official Pearl Harbor tours.