Victory at Pearl Harbor…

The significance of December 7, 1941 is something that most of our parents do not need to be reminded about. It was a shocking, indelible moment for them, much like September 11, 2001 was for another generation of Americans. I don’t want to spend time here comparing those two disastrous attacks: one by a hostile state, the other by a handful of extremists. That’s for another time, another post.

This is a day of remembrance.

There are not many veterans of Pearl Harbor still with us. Not many left who saw the Japanese planes diving out of the sky, felt the concussions as great battleships shuddered, burned, and sank. Not many left who can stand on the observation deck of the USS Arizona Memorial, gaze at that sunken iron tomb and say, “I knew a guy who went down with that ship.”

On December 7th, we remember what was lost at Pearl Harbor: the lives, the ships, the planes – our national innocence.

But on this day, we should also remember the miracle of Pearl Harbor: the incredible effort that raised so many of those ships from the bottom of the harbor, patched them up – and sent them back into the fight. Only three of the ships that were bombed in Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy were forever lost to the fleet.

And of the 30 ships in the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor, only one survived the war without being sunk.

The dynamism, optimism and resolve displayed by those military crewmen and civilians who, within months, raised and repaired the devastated wreckage of Pearl Harbor are qualities that Americans must call on once again to overcome our national challenges. Would that our leaders would spend less time sowing the fear of future attacks – and more time appealing to the better angels of our national identity.

“Can do” was the unofficial motto of the Seabees, the legendary Navy outfit that led the reconstruction effort at Pearl Harbor.

Where’s that American “Can do” spirit now?

P.S. Click here for a WWII-era Pearl Harbor song I found online. It may seem a bit too upbeat at first, but in the context of our ultimate victory at Pearl Harbor, it’s not too bouncy after all. It’s got that confidence and “Can do” spirit.


Filed under History

6 responses to “Victory at Pearl Harbor…

  1. Darroch Greer

    Thanks for that reminder, Paul. I just put out my flag.

  2. A mere 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor my Grandaddy, who was a line engineer for GM, was brought to San Diego to help assembly line the manufacture of aircraft for Consolidated – prior to this airplanes had been made one at a time. My mom vividly recalls the train trip across the country, from Detriot to San Diego visiting her Scottie dog Lindy (named for Lindbergh and of course she had a Scottie because FDR had a Scottie) in the baggage car. The mobilization of civilians was that fast, that complete. Now? We can’t get a freakin infastructure jobs bill through the Senate without 60 votes. This in a time of war, deep recession and criminal income disparity.

    • “The mobilization of civilians was that fast, that complete. Now? We can’t get a freakin infastructure jobs bill through the Senate without 60 votes. This in a time of war, deep recession and criminal income disparity.”

      You’ve stated the problem clearly and eloquently, Sal. Where are the CCC, the WPA, and similar productive large-scale work programs? Instead, we mistake bonuses paid to paper-shuffling, Byzantine-deal-making banksters for actual economic growth.

  3. Barbra Zuanich-Friedman

    Thank you for that meaningful reminder, Paul. I was two years old and my family living in San Pedro, CA, site of West Coast Army bastion, Fort MacArthur. The night of December 7, 1941, my frightened mom looked out the frosty window into the cold air and saw what she thought were thousands of white canopies floating — her first thought being they were Japanese paratroopers invading the coast. Thank God they were just stars. Thank God for the brave men and women of Pearl Harbor.

  4. Rob

    The other miracle of Pearl Harbor was the canceled Third Strike. (from Wikipedia):
    Possible third wave

    Several Japanese junior officers, including Mitsuo Fuchida and Minoru Genda, the chief architect of the attack, urged Nagumo to carry out a third strike in order to destroy as much of Pearl Harbor’s fuel and torpedo[nb 15] storage, maintenance, and dry dock facilities as possible.[63] Military historians have suggested the destruction of these would have hampered the U.S. Pacific Fleet far more seriously than loss of its battleships.[64] If they had been wiped out, “serious [American] operations in the Pacific would have been postponed for more than a year”;[65] according to American Admiral Chester Nimitz, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, “it would have prolonged the war another two years.”[66] Nagumo, however, decided to withdraw for several reasons:

    * American anti-aircraft performance had improved considerably during the second strike, and two thirds of Japan’s losses were incurred during the second wave.[67] Nagumo felt if he launched a third strike, he would be risking three quarters of the Combined Fleet’s strength to wipe out the remaining targets (which included the facilities) while suffering higher aircraft losses.[67]
    * The location of the American carriers remained unknown. In addition, the admiral was concerned his force was now within range of American land-based bombers.[67] Nagumo was uncertain whether the U.S. had enough surviving planes remaining on Hawaii to launch an attack against his carriers.[68]
    * A third wave would have required substantial preparation and turnaround time, and would have meant returning planes would have had to land at night. At the time, only the Royal Navy had developed night carrier techniques, so this was a substantial risk.[69]
    * The task force’s fuel situation did not permit him to remain in waters north of Pearl Harbor much longer, since he was at the very limit of logistical support. To do so risked running unacceptably low on fuel, perhaps even having to abandon destroyers en route home.[70]
    * He believed the second strike had essentially satisfied the main objective of his mission — the neutralization of the Pacific Fleet — and did not wish to risk further losses.[71] Moreover, it was Japanese Navy practice to prefer the conservation of strength over the total destruction of the enemy.[72]

    At a conference aboard Yamato the following morning, Yamamoto initially supported Nagumo.[71] In retrospect, sparing the vital dockyards, maintenance shops, and oil depots meant the U.S. could respond relatively quickly to Japanese activities in the Pacific. Yamamoto later regretted Nagumo’s decision to withdraw and categorically stated it had been a great mistake not to order a third strike.[73]

    • Not hitting the fuel depots at Pearl Harbor was ultimately catastrophic for the Japanese. Six month after Pearl Harbor, after the Battle of MIdway, the war in the Pacific was essentially over. Like Lee and the Confederacy after Gettysburg, they fought on — but victory was no longer in their control.

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