U.S.S. Arizona. Public Domain.

December 7, 1941.

The U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was attacked shortly before 8:00 a.m. Hawaii time, 74 years ago today. It was a Sunday.

It’s easy to forget the Date Which Will Live in Infamy with 70+ years in the rear view mirror.  Hollywood tried to remember with that God-awful 2001 Ben Affleck flick, Pearl Harbor. (Sorry, Ben.)

We’re old school. When it comes to December 7, 1941, there’s one and only one film that does it right:


Contrary to popular myth, Tora! does not mean “attack.” Literally, it means tiger.”  It was the Japanese code word used to indicate that total surprise had been achieved. In this case, it was an acronym for totsugeki raigeki (突撃雷撃, “lightning attack”).

And it was. According to

About 360 Japanese attack planes had launched at dawn from aircraft carriers in an attack force of about 33 ships, under the command of Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. The strike force had steamed, under the cover of darkness, to about 275 to 200 miles north of Oahu. Once the bombers sighted the island, they split into two groups. One group proceeded overland at low altitude across the island and the other flew over the water around the island to make an approach from the south.

At 7:55 a.m., the first bombs and torpedoes were dropped. After two hours, the U.S. sustained 18 ships sunk or severely damaged, about 170 aircraft destroyed, and there were about 3,700 casualties (some place the number closer to 3,500). Japanese casualties were minimal.

U.S. losses:

  • 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed
  • All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged. Four were sunk. All but one (Arizona) were later raised. Six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war.

Sunk or damaged:

  • Three cruisers
  • Three destroyers
  • An anti-aircraft training ship
  • One minelayer

2,403 Americans killed; 1,178 wounded.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the American Congress and the nation on December 8 to detail the attack. He began:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

One of my college profs and his fam lived in Hawaii in ’41. Diamond Head. They were Japanese. Dr. Nishida had plenty of post-Pearl stories, which he told without the slightest trace of animus.

We all remember the September 11 attacks which resulted in about 3,000 immediate (attack time) deaths. That terrible Sunday in 1941 resulted in close to 4,000 casualties.

Don’t pass over Pearl too quickly. Don’t relegate it to the rear view mirror. Watch the movie. Read the history. Thank a WWII vet for his or her service. Thank any vet or active duty service member for his or her service.

Remember the price tag.