By Joe Boyles
Today is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack which launched America into history’s greatest conflict. The surprise attack caught America off-guard. Most of the 160 million Americans (about half our current population) couldn’t find Hawaii on a map. Few if any had ever heard of a place called Pearl Harbor.
In fact, the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet had been stationed at Pearl for only six months. Before that, San Diego was the home port, but with increasing tensions, the Roosevelt Administration decided to forward deploy the fleet to Hawaii. FDR hoped this move would dissuade the aggressive Japanese, but it only served to provoke the militant nation.
December 7th, 1941 was a Sunday and good weather prevailed across much of the United States. Hawaii is five hours behind Eastern Standard Time so most Americans had already been to church and were enjoying a pleasant afternoon. My mother was a single mom with two infant daughters. She was enjoying a lazy drive across the Kansas countryside with her parents and daughters.
They stopped at a drug store. Mother had ordered a lime phosphate which was a popular soda fountain drink at the time when regular programming was interrupted on the radio by a newsflash that American naval forces were being bombed in Hawaii. Confusion reigned. Reports were all over the map.
Later in the afternoon it became apparent that events in Hawaii had changed America and the world forever. The damage from the Japanese air attacks was devastating – great damage to the fleet and more than 2400 lives lost. But now, America was awake and filled with a terrible resolve.
World War II had been underway for more than two years since the fall of 1939 and thus far, America stood on the sidelines. Now we were in it. Our enemies terribly underestimated the strength of America – our wealth, population and industrial capacity. America became the “Arsenal of Democracy,” producing the planes, tanks, and guns to arm the British, Russia, as well as expand our own military.
We entered World War II very unprepared. In 1940, America ranked 16th in the world in military strength. Five years later, we were the greatest power on earth, the leader of the victorious coalition of allies. It took us nearly three years to train, organize, equip and deploy the divisions, wings and fleets necessary to face our enemies on two fronts and defeat them. By 1945, 16 million Americans, fully 10 percent of our population, were in uniform. We ruled the skies, seas, and the defeated Axis powers of Germany and Japan.
World War II changed America in so many ways. Women went to work in factories and their role as mother and homemaker was forever changed. Family and regional ties were broken – my Mother, a divorcee from the Midwest with two small children, fell in love with a farm boy from Live Oak. My parents came from completely different backgrounds, but as the cliché goes, love conquers all.
America was untouched by war (aside from 402 thousand dead and a million other casualties) and was the world’s industrial powerhouse for more than a quarter century until the 1970s. Pax Americana ruled. We won’t see those days again.
Every American who was alive and conscious of events on that lazy Sunday in late 1941 can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard that Japan had attacked our military forces in Hawaii. Do you recall where you were when you heard the World Trade Center had been struck by aircraft on September 11, 2001? That’s how it was on December 7, 1941, “a day which will live in infamy.” President Roosevelt’s words spoken to Congress the next day are forever etched in our psyche. We remember that fateful day and all the events that followed. God bless America.