'Date which will live in infamy': What to remember about Pearl Harbor, 79 years late
"December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy," President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously proclaimed.
Americans on Monday will honor the 79th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The surprise raid on the major U.S. Navy base near Honolulu killed more than 2,400 Americans and left another 1,100 injured. In short, the strike signaled the entry of the United States into World War II.
According to the National Park Service, Congress designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in August 1994. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, a small, intimate gathering of veterans will be held at Pearl Harbor Visitor Center — though it is closed to the public.
Here are some facts surrounding that fateful day in U.S. history:
What happened during the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese planes made the surprise raid on Pearl Harbor. During the attack, which was launched from aircraft carriers, nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, were damaged or destroyed, as well as more than 300 aircraft, according to the History Channel.
How many were killed at Pearl Harbor?
The official American death toll was 2,403, according to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, including 2,008 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, 218 Army service members and 68 civilians. Of the dead, 1,177 were from the USS Arizona, the wreckage of which now serves as the main memorial to the incident. Fifty-five Japanese soldiers also were killed.
The total number of wounded was 1,143, including 710 Navy, 69 Marines, and 364 Army and 103 civilians, the Visitors Bureau says.
Why was Pearl Harbor a pivotal moment in WWII and US history?
Until the raid, the U.S. had been reluctant to join World War II, which had started on Sept. 1, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland.
In those nearly 2 1/2 years, the U.S. had extensively assisted the United Kingdom, virtually the sole source of resistance to the Nazis in Europe, with arms and other supplies. However, the goal of isolationism – brought on, according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian, by the Great Depression and the memory of massive losses during World War I – led Roosevelt and Congress to be wary of intervention.
Pearl Harbor reversed that in a day, with Congress issuing a declaration of war after Roosevelt’s speech on Dec. 8, 1941.
Where are remembrance ceremonies taking place at Pearl Harbor?
The main ceremony, as in past years, will take place at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, hosted by the National Park Service and the United States Navy.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the affair will be much smaller than in previous years and it will not be spread out across multiple events over the course of the week.
Instead, in order to "protect our Pearl Harbor Survivors and World War II Veterans," the main ceremony will be the sole event — and it will be closed to the public. That said, it will be available to stream on the National Park Service page. The event begins at 7:50 a.m. HST, with a moment of silence five minutes later.
Scott Burch, acting superintendent of Pearl Harbor National Memorial, said in a statement: “America’s obligation to honor its veterans has been a sacrosanct pillar of our society, and we encourage everyone to join us virtually for this important ceremony remembering the military personnel and civilians who sacrificed so much for their country.”
How many survivors remain?
The exact number of survivors is unclear. Only two survivors of the USS Arizona, the ship most heavily hit in the raid, are still alive. Donald Stratton, a sailor on the USS Arizona who was burned due to the attacks, died in February, per Stars and Stripes. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association disbanded years ago as numbers dwindled.