Knowing exactly what happened at Pearl Harbor used to require one to have actually been present at the time of the attack. Even specifics about accounts and memories from survivors can be muddied by the adrenaline rush and the action of what’s unfolding around them. What does help paint the best picture are documents pulled specifically from that era. While much was destroyed during the surprise Japanese attack, some documents have survived the passing of the years in fine enough condition to be read by us today, providing an unexpected history lesson.

These specific documents were Navy Deck Logs, salvaged from lesser-damaged vessels, including the USS Maryland, the USS Solace, and the USS Conyngham. To preserve the information they carried, a multitude of documents from Pearl Harbor was scanned into the digital files of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the White House opted to release some of these documents to show the United States what life was like on these ships during one of the hardest times the nation had ever gone through.

The USS Maryland

Image by US National Archives and Records Administration

The deck logs pulled from the battleship Maryland detailed the crew’s engagement with a possible Japanese submarine while a hail of gunfire erupted overhead from incoming fighters. Though it may not read like an action novel, the log mentions receiving 2000 lbs. of ice at 0640, and then, at 0750, “Japanese planes commenced bombing attack…” The log also specifically states how the vessel engaged the fighters and witnessed the USS Oklahoma’s sinking.

The USS Solace

Image by US National Archives and Records Administration

This floating hospital served as a safe haven for servicemen who were injured during the onslaught of Japanese bombs, torpedoes, and machine gun fire. The log pulled from its historic records makes mention of the civilian nurses who cared for these men. A large bulk of one document details the duration of the attack, from 0800 to 1200 hours, starting with “Pearl Harbor, T.H. attacked by Japanese torpedo and bombing planes.”

 

 

The USS Conyngham

Image by US National Archives and Records Administration

The Conyngham noted in her deck logs that after being resupplied with ice cream, Japanese fighters were spotted over Ford Island. By 0818, J. R. Hansen reported that the Conyngham had opened fire on incoming fighters which continued until 1104.

 

Digging Deeper

This small selection of documents from Pearl Harbor’s surviving vessels is just one way to dive into the history of December 7th, 1941. Anyone intrigued by the attack and wanting to know more should make a trip to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which houses an incredible array of exhibits and memorials from the attack.

Guests can survey a variety of artifacts from the attack, stare down into the wreckage of the USS Arizona, and even walk throughout and on the decks of the Battleship Missouri, the vessel on which Japan signed the surrender documents.

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