Remembering our Military Service, A Key Element in our Life Story
On this eve of Pearl Harbor Day, December 7 — Seventy-six years ago, December 7, 1941 the Japanese Navy in a surprise attack decimated the U. S. Navy home ported in Honolulu, Hawaii. Pearl Harbor is the home to U.S. pacific fleet. There are not many veterans of that fateful day alive today, but it is an excellent time to remember and honor the veterans in your family.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States navel base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian Territory. The attack, also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, led to the United States’ entry into World War II. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation.
The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time. The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft (including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers) in two waves, launched from six Japanese aircraft carriers. Eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. One hundred eighty-eight U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Important base installations such as the power station, dry dock, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section), were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, with 64 servicemen killed.
The surprise attack came as a profound shock to the American people and led directly to the American entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan, and several days later, on December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The American government responded with a declaration of war against Germany and Italy. Domestic support for non-interventionism, which had been fading since the Fall of France in 1940, disappeared.
With the start of World War II, life in America changed! Your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were affected by the war no matter where they lived. Many of our fathers and grandfathers served in the military. Many fought and some died during this great global war.
If you served in the military take the time to write about your experiences. If your mother or father served in the military, ask them about their service. WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the Cold War (with Russia), Iraq and Afghanistan are all conflicts in the past 75 years. Take the time to record and write about your service.
I have interviewed many veterans from WWII, Korea and Viet Nam and they all speak of the patriotism they felt about their service. One of the WWII veterans, who was a member of a tank crew, I interviewed had this to say about his experience in Germany:
I remember one time we took a town late at night. We stopped a train from leaving town. This prevented the mayor and other city officials from leaving town. We didn’t know where the towns peoples’ loyalties were. We always took turns keeping guard over our tanks – two men at a time. I had the 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock, four hours in the middle of the night—I was at one end of the tank next to the railroad.
I said “You know, we don’t know where the Germans are, and they don’t know where we are.” One guy, we called Snapper, said, “I’ll go down and find out where the Germans are, and I’ll come back.” I waited and waited and waited; pretty soon I could hear him coming back. I said, “Snapper is that you?” I raised my gun ready to shoot. Finally, Snapper called out, “Yeah it’s me.” I was so scared. This is the first time I ever talked about it since I came home. I never talk to anybody about it. Not my kids, not Rose, no one.
Another WWII veteran, a member of a B-17 bomber crew, told me this:
On one of our makeup day raids to southern Germany, we were to bomb the German tank facilities and a second target, an oil and synthetic fuel refinery. On the first IP [visual marker on the ground] run, a huge piece of flak jolted the plane and jammed the bombardier’s automatic bomb release. Oh my golly, it was my duty to get them [bombs] released. I hydraulically pulled the turret up into the plane and gingerly wire walked to the bomb bay area. The bomb bay doors opened and all I saw was a formation of our B-17s flying directly beneath me. It took my breath away. I intercomed to our pilot and radio man the precarious situation. After a few prayers, the planes below us moved away. Hanging on for dear life, I managed to get the release to the right spot. The bombardier then toggled the switch and 3 tons of bombs hit the refinery. Huge balls of fire erupted. The most eerie and scary moment of my life was seen and done at 20,000 feet. I still shake when I think about it. But we did make it home safely.
Write about your own service or talk to your parents about theirs. Your time in the military is such an important aspect of your life history. Don’t skip over it!
A few topics you can write about:
- When you joined the military, do you remember your parent’s reaction?
- What were your feelings about the world situation at the time?
- Did your family have a tradition of military service?
If you served in combat, describe your feelings and leave your story.