It was in the just-past-dawn hours of a quiet Sunday morning at an exotic base for U.S. military personnel. The ships were anchored in the port, lined up like sailors at attention waiting for an inspection. A routine day.
And just after 6am, the first wave of Japanese planes launched from Japanese carriers in the Pacific. Two hours later, the planes reached their targets. Pearl Harbor.
More than 90 ships were docked in the harbor, including eight battleships. The USS Pennsylvania was in dry dock on one side of the harbor. The rest sat in battleship row: the USS Oklahoma, the USS West Virginia, the USS California, the USS Maryland, the USS Tennessee, the USS Nevada and the USS Arizona. Five of the ships received some damage in the raid. The USS Oklahoma flipped upside down (“turned turtle” in Navy parlance) and sank. The West Virginia also sank. But a sinking ship can be a slow-moving process and for the most part men were able to escape those ships.
That wasn’t the case for the crew of the USS Arizona. At just after 8am, the ship was hit by an armorpiercing bomb that ignited some of the ammunition aboard the ship. It exploded. And 1,177 men were killed – the largest number of men lost on any ship that day and about half of the total casualties of the attack.
And then came the second wave of Japanese fighters.
By 10am, the attack was over. Two-thousand and three Americans were dead. Twenty-one ships were sunk or damaged. One-hundred and eighty-eight aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged. Most planes were hit on the tarmac.
The news would gradually trickle back to the mainland that Sunday afternoon. And the world would forever change.
We remember Pearl Harbor.