Clarksville, TN – When the Empire of Japan launched their sneak attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii it was 11:48am local time 80 years ago in Clarksville Tennessee and people were just getting out of church and looking forward to a Sunday lunch.
On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, the time was 7:48am in Hawaii, and the sailors of the U.S. Fleet were conducting their Sunday morning worship services when Japanese aircraft attacked. The attack consisted of two waves of 354 aircraft which took off from six Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, S?ry?, Hiry?, Sh?kaku, and Zuikaku
The first warning of the air raid was sent out via radio to U.S Forces at 7:58am Hawaiian Time on Sunday December 7th 1941.
The human toll was staggering with 2,402 killed, and 1,282 wounded. A total of 16 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Crosses, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Stars were awarded to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who responded to the attack.
The Japanese lost 29 aircraft, and 5 midget submarines. A total of 65 Japanese servicemen were killed or wounded, one captured.
The U.S. Navy Page on Remembering Pearl Harbor has this to say…
In the early morning hours of December 7th, 1941 the mettle and determination of a generation were challenged when the Imperial Japanese Navy unleashed a sneak attack on the U.S. Navy fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor. In the face of these attacks the Sailors of the U.S. Navy responded with honor, courage and undying commitment. Heroic actions were embodied by common men who, when suddenly faced with the challenge of battle, responded with the resolve and character that defined the Navy and nation. The personal stories and accounts listed here provide a chance to reflect upon, ponder and understand what a rich heritage Sailors today share with veteran shipmates. These accounts come from Sailors associated with six of the many commands and ships affected that fateful day. In addition, they resonate the faithfulness, valor and ethos of that day and what it means to be a Sailor in the United States Navy.Sailors today are part of this long blue line who have provided protection and security to the nation and the world.
The speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt
In a speech given on December 8th 1941 before a joint session of Congress President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the attack as “A date which will live in infamy,” and it propelled a reticent America fully into the Second World War, a conflict that started two years prior and would continue for another four years.
The attack was aimed at preventing the United States from using its Naval forces to interfere with the Imperial ambitions of the Japanese Military.
Below is the text of the speech President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to the U.S. Congress on the day following the attack.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: 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.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.
Lieutenant Commander S. G. Fuqua wrote as follows:
I was in the ward room eating breakfast about 0755 when a short signal on the ship’s air raid alarm was made. I immediately went to the phone and called the Officer-of-the-Deck to sound general quarters and then shortly thereafter ran up to the starboard side of the quarter deck to see if he had received word.
On coming out of the ward room hatch on the port side, I saw a Japanese plane go by, the machine guns firing, at an altitude of about 100 feet. As I was running forward on the starboard side of the quarter deck, approximately by the starboard gangway, I was apparently knocked out by the blast of a bomb which I learned later had struck the face plate of #4 turret on the starboard side and had glanced off and gone through the deck just forward of the captain’s hatch, penetrating the decks and exploding on the third deck.
When I came to and got up off the deck, the ship was a mass of flames amidships on the boat deck and the deck aft was awash to about frame 90. The anti-aircraft battery and machine guns apparently were still firing at this time. Some of the Arizona boats had pulled clear of the oil and were lying off the stern.
At this time I attempted, with the assistance of the crews of #2 and #4 turrets to put out the fire which was coming from the boat deck and which had extended to the quarter deck. There was no water on the fire mains.
However, about 14 C02s were obtained that were stowed on the port side and held the flames back from the quarter deck enabling us to pick up wounded who were running down the boat deck out of the flames. I placed about 70 wounded and injured in the boats which had been picked up off the deck aft and landed them at the Ford Island landing. This was completed about 0900 or 0930.
By this time the Captain’s cabin and Admiral’s cabin were about waist-deep in water. A search of the two cabins revealed that the Admiral and Captain were not there. Knowing that they were on board I assume that they had proceeded to the bridge. All personnel but 3 or 4 men, turrets #3 and #4, were saved.
About 0900, seeing that all guns of the anti-aircraft and secondary battery were out of action and that the ship could not possibly be saved, I ordered all hands to abandon ship.
From information received from other personnel on board, a bomb had struck the forecastle, just about the time the air raid siren sounded at 0755. A short interval thereafter there was a terrific explosion on the forecastle, apparently from the bomb penetrating the magazine. Approximately 30 seconds later a bomb hit the boat deck, apparently just forward of the stack, one went down the stack, and one hit the face plate of #4 turret indirectly. The commanding officer of the USS. Vestal stated that 2 torpedoes passed under his vessel which was secured alongside the Arizona, and struck the Arizona.
The first attack occurred about 0755. I saw approximately 15 torpedo planes which had come in to the attack from the direction of the Navy Yard. These planes also strafed the ship after releasing their torpedoes. Shortly thereafter there was a dive bomber and strafing attack of about 30 planes. This attack was very determined, planes diving within 500 feet before releasing bombs, about 0900. There were about twelve planes in flight that I saw.
The personnel of the anti-aircraft and machine gun batteries on the Arizona lived up to the best traditions of the Navy. I could hear guns firing on the ship long after the boat deck was a mass of flames. I can not single out one individual who stood out in acts of heroism above the others as all of the personnel under my supervision conducted themselves with the greatest heroism and bravery.
Chief Yeoman, S. R. Miller wrote as follows:
At about 1030, December 7th, 1941, after the USS California had been struck with torpedoes and bombs, a man reported to me on the Flag Bridge that be had just escaped from Central Station by the trunk leading into Flag Conn. This was reported to Ensign McGrath on the signal bridge. Stover, C.E., C.Q.M., Campbell (initials unknown), C.E.M., and I with Ensign McGrath entered Flag Conn to investigate We obtained a Line and lowered Ensign McGrath through the trunk to Central Station, which was then being flooded with fuel oil coming from vents and various other places.
The oil fumes were so strong that we feared Ensign McGrath would be overcome with the fumes before the trapped men could be rescued. At this time the ship was burning fiercely and there was also danger of the ship turning over as it was listing badly. Ensign McGrath completed his investigation and returned up the trunk to Flag Conn and reported that these men were in a compartment under Central Station and might be rescued by cutting a hole through the deck of Central Station. He reported that the deck of Central Station would soon be flooded with oil and that when this occurred, it would be too late to cut the hole through the deck.
A cutting torch was quickly obtained and volunteers called for. The response of volunteers was so great among various men on the boat deck that most of them had to be returned to their stations fighting fires. Ensign McGrath, Campbell and the volunteer rescue party entered Central Station through the trunk and proceeded to cut an escape hole in the deck. Ensign McGrath and Campbell were both nearly overcome by fumes before the job was completed.
The first who worked with the cutting torch was overcome by fumes and had to be replaced with another experienced man. During the time this hole was being cut, there was great danger of fire as the fuel oil was gradually working its way close to where the hole was being cut. In addition to this danger, there was danger of the ship turning over as it was straining the mooring lines badly. The hole in the deck was just cut in time before fuel oil flooded Central Station.
It is considered that Ensign McGrath, Campbell, and the several other men who assisted, accomplished saving the lives of these trapped men at great risk of their own, and therefore distinguished themselves in bravery and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.
Under the strain and shock of the attack, it is regretted that the names of the other enlisted men were not obtained. They acquitted themselves equally as well to the best traditions of the Naval Service.
Ensign E. R. Blair, Jr. had these comments on machine gun ammunition
I was in an undressed state in the forward bunk room when General Quarters sounded. The first torpedo struck as I left the bunkroom, quickly followed by the second. Zed was already set on the main deck hatches so that in order to get topside I opened the escape hatch. In the boat deck Ensign Canfield was acting as starboard battery officer and Ensign C. H. Hall as port battery officer so I rushed up to sky control to man a director. Both directors were inoperative. On the way to sky control I had noticed that machine guns number 1 and number 2 were firing but were short of ammunition. The ammunition that they were using was the 400 rounds of ready ammunition on that station.
I gathered a working party of about 10 men from the vicinity of 5 inch 51 caliber gun number 1 to bring up machine gun ammunition. We opened the amidships forecastle hatch which led to the shaft leading to the forward torpedo hold. We were under attack at the time but the men paid no heed to the enemy planes and worked quickly and eagerly. It was necessary to open five zed hatches including the armored deck hatch to get to the .50 caliber ammunition, but I believed that the need for the ammunition warranted the risk involved.
Because of the previous torpedo hits I knew that it would be impossible to get to the .50 caliber magazine via the third deck and the opening of a similar number of zed hatches would be involved. I broke out the belted ammunition, about 1600 rounds, distributed it among eight men, 200 rounds to a ready box, one ready box to a man. To each man I designated a station to which be was to take his ammunition. It was exceedingly hard going for these men to chink up the shaft with the ammunition.
The ship was listing badly and they could use only one hand to chink the vertical ladders in the shaft. Every one of the men made it to the main deck. With the remaining men I commenced belting up new ammunition.
Shortly, however, we were hit again. It felt exactly as the concussion of a 5 inch/51 caliber feels when you are sitting in the pointers seat. Two glass gauges broke and diesel oil ran out on the deck. I closed the valves and thought that glass gauges on a battleship should be done away with. There was a leak forward and we could hear water running close at hand. I was determined to get as much ammunition out as was possible and belt it above decks.
Accordingly, including two men who were on watch there, each man went topside with all be could carry. A Gunners Mate remained with the men and I instructed him to bring the clipping machine with him. He had it half unfastened when I left. The clipping machine never reached topside. When I went back for it thirty minutes later the torpedo hole was completely flooded.
From the magazine I headed for the main top, noting as I went that the main deck starboard side was a wreck; men were crawling out of the starboard forecastle hatch in a dazed condition, some badly burned. There was a neat bomb hole near 5 inch/51 caliber gun three with smoke trickling out. There was no ammunition in the maintop. I retraced my steps. On the main deck near the forecastle hatch amidst smoke and debris was the ammunition scattered over the deck with a dead man beside each ready box. Two ready boxes that could be gotten to (there was fire all around) I sent to guns numbered 1 and 2. I returned to the maintop hoping to find the clipping machine and the boxes of loose ammunition brought out last from the magazine. Two boxes were brought up by exhausted seamen, one of which was Shelton, S1c, 6-S Div. We turned to belting the ammunition by hand. After belting about 100 rounds “Abandon Ship’ was given. Reluctantly Ensign B. C. Hall and I left without firing our belt.
Machine Gunners who should be mentioned for their heroic work in ammunition supply line below decks and later in saving lives at the risk of their own were Bell, GM3c, Doran, S1c, Nix, S1c, and Cleveland, S1c, all of 6-P Division.
Commander E. Kranzfelder of the Staff of Commander Battleships wrote as follows:
Commander Sabin and I were at the Moana Hotel in Honolulu when, at approximately 0820 on the morning of December 7th, we received a call from the telephone operator telling us that an emergency existed at Pearl Harbor and that we should return to our ships as soon as possible. We proceeded to Pearl Harbor as expeditiously as possible and arrived on board the Maryland at about 0925.
Upon boarding the Maryland I proceeded immediately to the bridge. While on the bridge a man from the Oklahoma contacted me and stated that assistance was required on the Oklahoma and that there was an urgent need for cutting equipment. At this time Lieutenant Mandelkorn proceeded to the Oklahoma to assist in the rescue work. A short time later I informed the Admiral that I believed I could be of assistance in connection with the rescue work on the Oklahoma and he directed me to do all I could to release any entrapped personnel. Before leaving the Maryland I obtained a copy of the Oklahoma booklet of plans for use in connection with the cutting of holes in the Oklahoma’s hull,
With the energetic assistance of Lieutenant Mandelkorn the efforts of the rescue group were organized. Lines were rigged from the bilge keel at intervals along the bottom, telephone communication was established with the Maryland, an air supply line was quickly rigged from the Maryland to the Oklahoma, strainers were removed from main injections and overboard discharge in an attempt to gain access to the engine room. Contact was established with two men entrapped in the evaporator pump room through a small overboard discharge connection in the hull. Food and water was passed down to these men.
From information obtained from these men as to their location in the ship and with the aid of the booklet of plans it was possible to determine the best locations to cut access holes in the ship’s bottom. Since, with the exception of the reserve feed bottoms, practically the entire bottom of the Oklahoma consists of oil tanks, considerable care had to be exercised in cutting holes with an oxyacetylene torch in order not to open holes in the bottom which would permit the egress of oil with the attendant fire hazard. Fortunately, the information obtained from the entrapped men was correct and entrance holes were out in a cofferdam.
During the remainder of the day and until after midnight Lieutenant Mandelkorn and I made numerous trips to the other battleships in distress. I considered that we could be of most use in coordinating the delivery of essential salvage equipment such as submersible pumps, diving equipment, and arranging for tug service for the California and Nevada. At about 1930 the list on the California had increased to about 9 and recommendations were made to the Commanding Officer to counter flood two of the starboard firerooms to prevent the ship from capsizing. Likewise, arrangements were made with Commander Base Force to carry out two anchors from the bow of the Nevada to prevent her from slipping further into the channel.
At about 2100 Lieutenant Mandelkorn and I were aboard the tug Vireo when all batteries in the harbor opened fire on approaching planes. A short time after firing subsided, a man was rescued from the water over the stern of the Vireo. The man was placed in a stretcher and taken on board the California. From conversations with personnel of the Vireo it was learned that be had been in an Enterprise plane.
Of the observations as to conduct of personnel that came to my notice during the day, I consider that of Lieutenant Commander W. I. Benson, Engineer Officer of the Oklahoma as outstanding. His vigorous efforts in connection with the work of rescuing his entrapped shipmates on the Oklahoma deserve recognition.
Pay Clerk D. L. Westfall wrote as follows:
At the time of the attack, I was in my room shaving. The word was passed “Away Fire and Rescue Party;” just as I was leaving my room the second word was passed for all hands to man their General Quartets Stations closely followed by a shock of a hit. I glanced at my clock as I was leaving my room and noticed the time was a few minutes before 8:00am.
I started for my station in Radio Central; as I was passing along the third deck up a port ammunition passageway, I felt two more hits. The lights went out in the passageway except for one battle light and two-panel lights in the boat crane machinery space.
By the time I reached the compartment abreast the armory the ship had picked up a 10-15 list to port; there were a couple of battle lights on in this compartment. Water and oil were bubbling up along the junction of the bulkhead and deck of the electrical workshop, port side. Repair personnel were busy closing watertight doors.
When I reached Radio Central, personnel there had just started evacuating on the orders of the Communication Watch Officer. Radio equipment apparently was out of commission as I noticed many pieces of equipment knocked over or dangling by wires. Back up on the third deck all lights were out and only a few flashlights were available. About this time the word came along from man to man to “Abandon Ship.” I helped a partially incapacitated man to the second deck and then joined in a line passing injured men along to the ladder by the dental office. I lost all knowledge of time while here, but after some minutes, Ensign McClelland, who was beside me in the line, said he was feeling faint and then collapsed. I noticed other men dropping around me. I stooped over to pick up Mr. McClelland but when I stooped over I got dizzy and fell. I seemed to be paralyzed from the waist down, had great difficulty breathing, but had enough strength in my arms to drag myself to the ladder and up a couple of steps before collapsing completely [fuel oil fumes are mentioned on other ships as being a cause for such collapses].
After passing out I had only flashes of consciousness until mid-afternoon. When I recovered I was at the Naval Air Dispensary on Ford Island. Shortly thereafter I joined a bunch of men going over to BOQ [Bachelor Officers Quarters] at the Air Station and started a check on survivors from the supply department.
The action of everyone I observed was cool and purposeful as soon as they fully realized we were actually under attack. The only confusion was occasioned by lack of lighting. My life itself is proof of the courage and disregard of personal danger on the part of unknown shipmates.
The Executive Officer of USS Tennessee, Commander Colin Campbell, wrote as follows:
At 0800 Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941, I was at my residence in Waikiki, Honolulu, T. H., on authorized liberty. At about that time I heard what appeared to be gunfire, and which I first thought to be target practice of some kind. Shortly after, word came over the radio that Pearl Harbor was being attacked by Japanese planes, and all service personnel should proceed at once to their stations. I started immediately by automobile to Pearl Harbor, but the traffic congestion was such that I did not arrive until about 0915. I went to the Officer’s Club Landing. Bombing planes were still attacking. I was finally able to commandeer a boat. The Tennessee was moored inboard of the West Virginia at berth F-6.
The West Virginia had been sunk and was on fire. The Arizona, about 75 feet astern of the Tennessee had been sunk and was on fire, and oil was burning on the water. I landed on Ford Island and about 0940 was able to get aboard over a pipe line. I went to the signal bridge and assumed command until the arrival of the Captain about 1000. Lieutenant Commander J. W. Adams, Jr., who had the head of Department duty, had been in command and was on the signal bridge. The stern of the Tennessee was on fire, and fires were raging on the Arizona and West Virginia, threatening destruction of this ship. The officers on the bridge of the West Virginia informed me that her after magazines had been flooded, but that efforts had been made to flood the forward magazines, but as the second deck was underwater they were not sure that they had succeeded. I told them that their magazines must be flooded at all costs, as this ship was relatively undamaged and must be saved.
When the Captain came aboard be directed me to go aft and take charge on the quarterdeck, where I remained practically continuously supervising the firefighting on this ship and against the oil fires on the water coming from the Arizona, until about sundown Tuesday the 9th, by which time the oil fires on the Arizona had been extinguished by this ship and yard tugs. The fires aft on this ship were under control by about 1030 Sunday morning, but continued to break out sporadically for the next couple of days due to the intense beat from the Arizona oil fires. During this time our main engines were run ahead and the wash from the propeller very successfully helped wash the burning oil astern, assisted by hoses from this ship. The Tennessee was wedged between the sunken West Virginia and the forward quay, preventing any movement ahead. As long as the intense fires raged on Arizona, the Tennessee was constantly in danger.
For me to mention the especially distinguished conduct of any particular individual would detract from the bravery, calmness, and efficiency of all officers and men. The conduct of all hands was superb, and I am proud of every one of them. I cannot help, however, mentioning at this time the distinguished conduct of Lieutenant Commander J. W. Adams, Jr., the gunnery officer; and that of Chief Boatswain I. W. Adkins, who had charge of the repair party fighting the fires aft, and whose leadership and heroic conduct helped to save the ship by keeping the fires under control.
USS West Virginia
Lieutenant Commander T. T. Beattie wrote as follows:
About five minutes to eight I was in the wardroom just finishing breakfast, when word came over the loud speaker from the officer-of-the-deck, “away fire and rescue party.” This was followed immediately by a second announcement over the loud speaker, “Japanese are attacking, all hands General Quarters,” and the general alarm was rung.
I heard several dull explosions coming from other battleships. Immediately I left the wardroom and ran up the starboard passageway to the bridge. The Captain was just ahead of me and proceeding in the same direction.
At this time the ship listed at least five or six degrees and was steadily listing more to port. The Captain and I went to the conning tower, our battle stations, and at this time dive bombing attacks started to take place and numerous explosions were felt throughout the ship. Upon testing our communications with central station and to the guns we found they were disrupted. I suggested to the Captain as long as no communications were in the battle conning tower that we leave there and attempt to establish messenger communication and try to save the ship. We went out on the starboard side of the bridge discussing what to do. During all this time extremely heavy bombing and strafing attacks occurred. The ship was constantly shaken by bomb hits.
The Captain doubled up with a groan and stated that he had been wounded. I saw that be had been hit in the stomach probably by a large piece of shrapnel and was very seriously wounded. He then sank to the deck and I loosened his collar. I then sent a messenger for a pharmacists mate to assist the Captain.
Just then the USS Arizona’s forward magazines blew up with a tremendous explosion and large sheets of flame shot skyward, and I began to wonder about our own magazines and whether they were being flooded. I posted a man with the Captain and went down to the forecastle where a number of the crew and officers had gathered. I got hold of a chief turret captain to check immediately on the magazines and to flood them if they were not flooded at this time. Large sheets of flame and several fires started aft. Burning fuel oil from the USS Arizona floated down on the stern of the ship. Just then the gunnery officer, Lieutenant Commander Berthold, came aboard and I asked him to try to flood the forward magazines. Shortly thereafter I was informed that the after magazines were completely flooded but that they were unable to flood the forward magazines as the water was now almost to the main deck.
At about this time a large oil fire swept from the USS Arizona down the port side of the USS West Virginia. We had no water on board as the fire mains and machinery were out of commission and we were unable to do any fire fighting at all. I got into a motor launch to go to the stern of the ship to investigate the fire. The smoke was so heavy that I could not see aft of the bridge. As I got into the boat a sheet of flame swept on top of us and we barely managed to get free of the fire. I then had the boat take me aft. The burning oil on the water swept by the ship and I managed to return to the quarterdeck. I realized then that the ship was lost.
The attack lasted approximately thirty minutes. We were able to fire all our ready ammunition on the anti-aircraft batteries, but were unable to replenish it as the ship was flooded. I then told the men on the quarterdeck, with the exception of a small working party, to leave the ship. I believe at this time that all the wounded had been taken off the ship and it was extremely dangerous for anyone to remain aboard; that nothing could be done to save the ship and shells from the secondary batteries were constantly exploding due to the intensive heat of the fire midships.
The conduct of the crew and officers was outstanding. There was no confusion and every man and officer did his duty as well as he was able under the conditions.
For those who wish to discover more information on the attacks, a good place to start is the Wikipedia article on the attack.
Editor’s Note: Information in this article comes from many different sources including the Wikipedia, The U.S. Navy, the U.S. Archives, The Library of Congress, and more.