December 7, 1941
Pearl Harbor Day marks the anniversary of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, bringing the United States into World War II and widening the European war to the Pacific.
The bombing, which began at 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time on a Sunday morning, lasted little more than an hour but devastated the American military base on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Nearly all the ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were anchored there side by side, and most were damaged or destroyed; half the bombers at the army's Hickam Field were destroyed. The battleship USS Arizona sank, and 1,177 sailors and Marines went down with the ship, which became their tomb. In all, the attack claimed more than 3,000 casualties—2,403 killed and 1,178 wounded.
On the following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a solemn Congress to ask for a declaration of war. His opening unforgettable words: "Yesterday, December 7, 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." War was declared immediately with only one opposing vote, that by Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana.
In the months that followed, the slogan "Remember Pearl Harbor" swept America, and radio stations repeatedly played the song of the same name with these lyrics:
Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we go to meet the foe,
Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we did the Alamo.
We will always remember, how they died for liberty,
Let's remember Pearl Harbor, and go on to victory.
Many states proclaim a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and each year, services are held on December 7 at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. The marble memorial, built over the sunken USS Arizona and dedicated in 1962, was designed by architect Albert Preis, a resident of Honolulu who was an Austrian citizen in 1941 and was interned as an enemy alien.
In 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the attack, commemorations were held over several days in Hawaii.
The observances began on Dec. 4, designated as Hawaii Remembrance Day. Ceremonies recalled the death of civilians in downtown Pearl Harbor. One of them was Nancy Masako Arakaki, a nine-year-old Japanese-American girl killed when anti-aircraft shells fell on her Japanese-language school.
On Dec. 5, Survivors Day, families of those present in Pearl Harbor in 1941 attended ceremonies at the Arizona Memorial. Franklin Van Valkenburgh, the commanding officer of the USS Arizona, was among those remembered; he posthumously won the Medal of Honor for his heroism aboard ship.
Dec. 6 was a Day of Reflection, intended to focus on the gains since the war rather than on the losses of the day.
On Pearl Harbor Day itself, former President George Bush, who received the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism as a Navy pilot in the Pacific during World War II, spoke at ceremonies beginning at 7:55 a.m. at the Arizona Memorial. Other dignitaries were all Americans; no foreign representatives were invited, out of political prudence. Other events included a parade, a flyover by jet fighters, an outdoor concert by the Honolulu Symphony presenting the premiere of Pearl Harbor Overture: Time of Remembrance by John Duffy, and a wreath-laying service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl overlooking Honolulu. And finally, at sunset on Pearl Harbor Day, survivors and their families gathered at the Arizona Visitors Center for a final service to honor those who died aboard the battleship in 1941.