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    Anchored in History: Infamy

    “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,” announced Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a nation struck with horror 77 years ago.

    History is why we do what we do. This is often preached by the Commanding Officer of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C, Stennis (CVN 74) Capt. Randy Peck over the ship’s one-main circuit. Whether passing by Midway island or sailing the hallowed seas of Leyte Gulf, we are constantly reminded of our history. As we continue our extended underway this Dec. 7, let us take a moment to remember one the most pivotal moments in our Navy’s history.

    The build-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor started over a decade before the attack. The Japanese expanded into Chinese Manchuria in 1931, conquering it. The rest of the decade they attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to occupy the rest of China. By 1940, Japan had joined the Axis Alliance with Nazi Germany and conquered Indochina, now known as Southeast Asia.

    The success of the budding Japanese empire was a considerable concern for the U.S. due to the U.S.’s strong political and economic ties to East Asia. As a result, the U.S. began sending more and more financial and military aid to China, who was battling the Japanese. The U.S. then moved to hurt the Japanese directly. They imposed an embargo on the resource poor island nation. The impact of embargo, specifically oil, forced the Japanese to expand further for resources to fuel their empire. However, Japan knew that further expansion would most likely lead to a war with U.S. for control of the Pacific Ocean.

    To continue its expansion, Japan opted to strike the U.S. before the U.S. could strike them. This led to the planning of surprise attack aimed at crippling the major obstacle in their way, the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. With the naval forces ported in Pearl Harbor out of the way, Japan could freely expand their empire.

    Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese fleet, masterminded the assault. Yammoto tediously plotted how he would dissemble the American fleet. Through the element of surprise and an amount of naval fire power never before seen, the Japanese would crush the Americans with one swift blow. Training for the attack began in spring of 1941, and the plan approved and finalized by fall of that year.

    With his plan approved, Yamamoto had to build his force. He chose Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo as the leader of the attack force. Nagumo received command of over 30 vessels, including six aircraft carriers with hundreds of embarked aircraft.

    Nagumo’s force rendezvoused at Tankan bay setting course for Pearl Harbor on Nov. 26. The Japanese fleet sailed away from well-traveled shipping lanes to avoid detection. By the early hours of Dec. 7, the Japanese had arrived 200 miles north of Hawaii and were ready to deal what they believed the decisive blow in a war that had yet to begun.

    Most Sailors, Marines, and Soldiers at Pearl Harbor slept in the beds as the Japanese amassed their forces near Hawaii. It was a Sunday. It was a day meant for rest and relaxation. While all seemed normal for the peace time forces on the islands, early signs of impending attack revealed themselves. In the early hours of the morning, a U.S. Navy vessel identified a submarine’s periscope, later to be confirmed as Japanese, near the entrance of Pearl Harbor. The destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) and a patrol plane sunk the submerged vessel. A report was never relayed to higher leadership about the submarine.

    At 0600, 181 planes launched from Japan’s six aircraft carriers. At 0700, an Army radar station picked up the aircraft on their radar. The radar station personnel thought the aircraft to be American planes scheduled to arrive that morning. At 0730, the last minutes of peacetime dwindled down as Rising Sun rose over the picturesque skies of Pearl Harbor.

    Just before 0800 on December 7, 1941, Japanese torpedo bombers, dive bombers, horizontal bombers, and fighter descended upon Hawaii. To the complete dismay of the U.S. troops stationed on the island, they began their attack. Japanese bombers struck airfields crippling American aircraft before they could respond to the attack.

    At the same time, Japanese planes swarmed the 90-plus ships at Pearl Harbor. They focused their attack on an area known as battleship row, where seven of the eight battleships were moored. Immediately as the planes arrived, they rained bombs and torpedoes on the defenseless American ships. Sailors desperately tried to fight back using any means necessary. Black smoke plumed over the harbor as the Japanese scored hit after hit. Despite a valiant attempt to propel the attack, the battleships USS West Virginia (BB-48) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) sunk in minutes.

    At 0810 the assault on battleship row continued, a bomb penetrated through the decks of the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) carving its way to the ships forward ammunition magazine. The bomb ignited the magazine causing a catastrophic explosion. The devastating attack on Arizona claimed 1,177 Sailors’ lives.

    Just over 30 minutes after the initial Japanese wave, the chaos subsided. The battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) got underway despite being damaged in the attack. Nevada raced towards the open ocean desperately trying to exit the harbor. As Nevada steamed towards the narrow channel out of the harbor, the second wave of 171 Japanese planes reached Pearl Harbor. They attempted to sink Nevada, thus blocking an exit from the channel. Nevada, with no other options, beached itself keeping the harbor open.

    The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted less than two hours. The surprise blitz by the Japanese succeeded by disabling the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Japanese destroyed or damaged 21 ships and 347 aircraft killing 2,403 Americans and wounding 1,178 more in the process.

    Despite what seemed to be an overwhelming success for the Japanese, the devastation at Pearl Harbor sparked a fire across America by uniting a nation divided about the ongoing war around the world. The Japanese, without a doubt, disabled the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but they did not destroy it. The four carriers of the Pacific Fleet were all away on assignment. With all the American carriers untouched, the U.S. repaired its devastated fleet. Out of the 21 ships sunk or damaged, only three were deemed beyond repair.

    The attack on Pearl Harbor woke a sleeping beast. The U.S. rallied around the brave Sailors, Marines, and Soldiers who fought at Pearl Harbor. The attack not only led to a war with Japan, but to Germany as well entering the U.S. into World War II officially. Only four years later on September 2, 1945, American and Japanese leader ship would meet aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) to end the war against Japan and ultimately World War II.

    For more news on John C. Stennis, visit or follow along on Facebook at

    This story was originally published Dec. 7, 2018 in the Statesman Magazine on page 6 of volume 6, issue 10.



    Date Taken: 12.07.2018
    Date Posted: 12.30.2018 08:51
    Story ID: 305770
    Location: PACIFIC OCEAN

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