December 7th, 1941 was a fateful day for the USA. The nation stood by and observed in shock as the sky over the Hawaiian naval base darkened with more than 350 Japanese fighter planes as they launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Many lives were lost and heroes made that day. The navy fleet took a critical hit but almost miraculously, the oil fuel storage, submarines and air craft carriers remained intact throughout the ninety minute air raid. The consequences of this incident happened on a global scale. The following day, President Roosevelt declared war on the Empire of Japan. Thousands of young men across the US signed up to join the military and defend their homes. Germany and Italy quickly declared their position against the US. This was the tipping point that escalated the international balance of power into a global confrontation.
Most people are familiar with the international repercussions of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But have you heard about the actual people who were around that day and lived to teach their children about what happened? One of these people was Samuel Fuqua, a lieutenant commander aboard the USS Arizona. Within minutes he became his ship’s senior officer, as the bombs fell and the main ammunition magazine was hit. More than 1 000 men were killed and many injured. Fuqua, although hurt and surprised by the events, managed to keep calm and immediately started coordinating the evacuation of the sinking ship. One of the last to abandon ship, he commandeered a boat to pick up survivors from the water, while heavy fire was still churning the bay.
On the north shore of Oahu, Air Corps Pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor were woken by the sound of bombs as they were sleeping in after a formal dance the night before. They rushed to the Haleiwa air field and took to the air, still wearing their tuxedo pants from the party. Greatly outnumbered by the Japanese, they both managed to survive the battle and take down some of the enemy fighters and bombers. Similarly, young Phil Rasmussen joined the fight in a P-36 fighter, and a pair of purple pajamas.
The USS Pennsylvania, which was dry-docked during the attack, got a helping hand from a civilian. Dockyard worker George Walters maneuvered a large rolling crane by the dry dock. During the attack, Walters shielded the valuable ship from blows, by moving the crane back and forth on its tracks alongside the Pennsylvania. He later helped the gunners spot Japanese airplanes from his 50-foot-high vantage point and used the cranes boom to swat at the planes surrounding the Navy ship.
All of these people, as well as other survivors and fallen heroes have their Memorial at Pearl Harbor today. When you visit the Navy base, a shuttle boat will take you across the lagoon to a platform that floats above the sunken USS Arizona. At the Museum you can learn more and similar stories of veterans and civilians who immediately experienced the attack, which dragged the US into a world-wide conflict. More adventurous visitors can take a boat out to the shores of Oahu and scuba-dive down to the spots, where shot down Japanese Airplanes still lie until today.