As the sun rose over the horizon, it honeyed the surf-fringed shape of Oahu. Lieutenant Toshio Hashimoto thought it was so lovely he snapped a photograph. Fighter pilot Yoshio Shiga had been to Pearl Harbor in 1934. He recalled happy memories.
Fuchida was to give two signals: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger, Tiger, Tiger) if surprise had been achieved, then fire a flare indicating this. That meant the torpedoes were to be launched first before smoke and fire obscured the targets. But he thought his flare had been missed by some. He fired a second. The dive bombers misinterpreted this as indicating the Americans had been alerted and nosed down towards their targets.
As it turned out, the snafu didn’t make any difference.
* * * * *
Far to the west, off Kota Bharu, Japanese warships began shelling the shore. It was 1 a.m., December 8 across the dateline, 0545 in Hawaii. Genda, who was with kido butai, knew the Malaya attack was to jump off two hours before his, but he had agreed to launch two hours later because his pilots objected to taking off in the dark. “I was resigned to leave our fate to Heaven,” he said later.
Four destroyers and a light cruiser began shelling pillboxes held by the Ninth Division of the Indian Army. “Someone’s opened fire!” the local Royal Air Force commander phoned Singapore. “Go for the transports, you bloody fool!” came the reply. General Arthur Percival phoned Malaya Governor Shento Thomas the news. “Well, I suppose you‘ll shove the little men off,” said the nonchalant governor.
* * * * *
Commander Logan Ramsey, Bellinger’s operations officer, had been trying to confirm the PBY’s report of sinking a sub when he saw a plane diving at Ford Island in the middle of the harbor. He thought it was some hot shot “flathatting” until he saw a bomb explode. He got on the blower: “Air raid Pearl Harbor! This is not a drill!”
There were ninety-six assorted warships and auxiliaries in Pearl Harbor that Sunday ranging from eight battleships, eight cruisers and twenty-nine destroyers down to the Baltimore, a survivor of Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, and mine layer Oglala which once did duty as a Fall River Line gin palace.
Many thought at first that some Navy or Army pilot was going to catch hell for dropping live ammo all over the place, but the truth was not long in dawning, Fireman Charles Leahey was easing himself in the head of destroyer tender Dobbin when Watertender Samuel Cucuk hollered at him: “You better cut that short, Charley. The Japs are here!”
Private Frank Gobeo of the 98th Coast Artillery didn’t know how to bugle call to arms, so he blew pay call instead. At Kaneohe a cook burst into Ensign Charles Willis’s room beating a pan with a spoon crying over and over: “They is attacking!”
On the Nevada, the band played dutifully on with the national anthem even as torpedoes were splashing into Battleship Row and bullets tore up its ensign. When they finished, the twenty-three musicians ran for cover, then carefully packed their instruments in their cases except for a cornetist who crammed his horn into the shell hoist in his excitement.
For all the accumulating horror, the attacking pilots echoed the chrysanthemum and the sword of their culture. One remembered the bombs falling, falling until they were “as small as poppy seeds.” Another thought they splashed “like a dragonfly laying eggs on the water.”
Within minutes Oklahoma was hit by five torpedoes, West Virginia six, California two. Battleships Maryland and Tennessee were moored inboard and escaped the torpedoes.
The most murderous hit and — unluckiest — of all was the armor piercing bomb that struck battleship Arizona near her No. 2 turret at about 0810. The bomb crashed through the deck as Genda had designed it and exploded into a fuel tank. Fire flared for seven seconds before reaching 1.7 million pounds of explosives. Arizona leaped into the air and settled fatally fractured into the mud with more than one thousand of its crew instantly killed with it. Some two hundred of them were later taken ashore and laid on the lawn in front of officers’ bungalows, their blood soaking the grass red.
A battleship began turning turtle. “Looks like they‘ve got Oklahoma,” said Mrs. John Earle, wife of Bloch’s chief of staff, who was watching in her yard on Makalapa hill. “Yes, I see they have,” said her neighbor, Admiral Kimmel.
Across the way on Ford Island Esther Molter called to her husband Albert as he was beginning some fix-up: “Al, there’s a battleship turning over.”
Destroyer Helm was the only ship in the harbor under way, making for open sea at twenty-seven knots. Lieutenant Victor Dybdal could see the Japanese pilots waving. “For some reason we all waved back.”
A Japanese pilot crashed into the harbor and fought off attempts to rescue him.
Finally the crew from destroyer Montgomery shot him.
The duty officer on cruiser New Orleans ordered its dock hawsers cut loose. A crewman chopped through its shore power line instead. Ammo for the anti-aircraft guns had to be passed up by hand on the powerless ship. Chaplain Howell Forgy went below to help, uttering the memorable encouragement: “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”
The B-l 7s from California flew into the war like drunks wandering onstage. Both Japanese and Americans fired at the unarmed planes. Some crash landed, one bellied down on a golf course, another managed to make it on the Haleiwa fighter strip. Welsh and Tyler, Tyler possibly the first pilot to go to war in tuxedo pants, had driven hell for leather to Haleiwa, gunned their P-40s without asking anybody and before they were through shot down seven Japanese between them. Lieutenant Homer Taylor brought his B-17 in and ran for shelter in an officer’s house across the runway, hiding with the family under a sofa. He played yo-yo with a little boy grabbing his leg as he tried to run to the window every time a strafing Japanese roared by.
At Schofield barracks, Private Lester Buckley let all the mules out of the corral to give them a fighting chance on their own. Private First Class Joseph Nelles, Hickam chaplain assistant, ran back into the chapel to rescue the Blessed Sacrament just as a bomb hit, killing him. On destroyer Monaghan, Boatswain’s Mate Thomas Donahue scanned the uproar quizzically: “Hell, I didn’t even know they were mad at us.” Seaman Short in Maryland’s foretop dropped his Christmas cards and began spraying machine gun fire. A desk officer on another ship began throwing potatoes at the strafing planes in frustration. Daniel Inouye, a nisei senior at McKinley High School long before he became a U.S. senator, furiously pedaled his bike to help at an aid station. He looked up into the sky and said to himself: “You dirty Japs!” On cruiser San Francisco an engineer came topside to join Ensign John Parrott. “I thought I’d come up and die with you.” Rear Admiral William Furlong stood on the bridge wing on Helena. A gunner called: “Excuse me, admiral, would you mind moving so we can shoot through here?” An officer playing golf went into a sand trap after his ball to find a soldier there shooting a rifle into the air. A bomb blew off a comer of a guardhouse. The inmates rushed out to help set up a .50 caliber machine gun. The phone rang in a Hickam hangar and someone reflexively picked it up. The caller wanted to know what all the noise was about. Kimmel stood in a window at his headquarters as a spent bullet tumbled in the window and hit him on the chest, smudging his whites. “It would have been better if it killed me,” he said. Down the hall Layton, Kimmel’s intelligence officer, caught sight of Admiral Bye who the day before had said the Japanese would never attack the United States. He was wearing a life jacket, his whites smeared with oil, staring wordlessly into the middle distance. “Soc” McMorris appeared: “Well, Layton, if it’s any satisfaction to you, we were wrong and you were right.”
* * * * *
Word reached the White House just about the moment Arizona blew up. Roosevelt was in his study with Hopkins who thought “there must be some mistake. . . surely Japan would not attack in Honolulu.” Roosevelt assumed “the report was probably true, just the kind of unexpected thing the Japanese would do and at the very time they were discussing peace in the Pacific they were plotting to overthrow it.”
He phoned Hull at 1405 just as the first wave was leaving Pearl Harbor. When Nomura and Kurusu delivered the fourteenth part of the terminating message, he told the secretary “to receive their reply formally and coolly bow them out.” The Japanese envoys arrived in Hull’s office at 1420 Washington time. Embassy staffer Okamura’s lack of typing skills had delayed their delivery hopes of presenting a declaration of war — although part fourteen never said as much — before the attack had failed. Pearl Harbor had already been under fire for an hour, Kota Bharu for two-and-a-half. Hull’s rage was icy as he pretended to read a document Magic had already revealed to him. He had “never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.”
As the stunned envoys bowed out of his office, Hull muttered “Scoundrels!
In Hawaii Webley Edwards broke into his platters at KGMB: “This is the real McCoy!. . . Those are real planes up there with red spots on them! Please believe me!” Then he returned to such top 10s as “Three Little Fishes in an Iddy-Biddy Pool.” (Four years later Edwards came full cycle announcing Japan’s surrender on battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay). The Honolulu Star Bulletin had an extra out by 0930: “WAR! OAHU BOMBED BY JAP PLANES.” The rival Advertiser ran out two thousand copies of its extra, then the press broke down.
In Washington Bill Peacock and Elton Fay were manning the desk at The Associated Press. It was to be somewhat more than a slow news day with new Soviet Ambassador Maxim Litzinoff due in town. The newsmen had just ordered peanut and bacon sandwiches from Whalen’s drug store across the street. Fay never got to eat his. At 1420, about fifty-four minutes after the bombs began falling, the phone rang. It was Roosevelt’s press secretary setting up a conference call with Associated Press, United Press and the International News Service. “This is Steve Early. I am calling from home. I have a statement which the president has asked me to read: ‘The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, all military activities on Oahu Island.’”
Peacock swivelled his trembling hands to his typewriter and somehow managed a “flash,” a priority designation: “FLASH “WASHINGTON–WHITE HOUSE SAYS JAPS ATTACK PEARL HARBOR’’
Sunday, December 7, 1941, had become a day to remember.
Announcer John Daly broke into a CBS broadcast at 1431 prior to a 1500 program by the New York Philharmonic. He mispronounced it “O-ha-u.” Paul W. Tibbetts, who one day was to fly over Hiroshima, heard it while twirling his radio dials flying his A-20 back from an exercise at Fort Benning, Georgia. He had simulated an attack on trucks bearing the sign “TANK.” Listeners to Tuffy Leemans Day heard the bulletin just as the Dodgers scored on their way to a 21-7 triumph. But those in the stands remained ignorant unless they had remarkable insights as to why Colonel William Donovan had been asked to call his office immediately. Edward R. Murrow was getting in a late round of golf at the Burning Tree Country Club and assumed his dinner invitation to the White House that night would be canceled. “We all have to eat. Come anyway,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. The phone rang at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Mamie Eisenhower heard her brigadier general husband say: “Yes? When? I’ll be right down.” Some Americans simply couldn’t believe it. At Pendleton Army Air Base in Oregon, Private First Class Ross Sheldon was a doubter until someone told him civilians downtown were standing men in uniform free drinks. “That clinches it,” he said.
At the America First rally in Pittsburgh, Colonel Enrique Urrutia Jr., a Reservist veteran, demanded: “Can this meeting be held? Do you know that Japan has attacked Manila, that Japan has attacked Hawaii?” To cries of “warmonger,” he was hustled out of the hall. “I came to listen,” he shouted. “I thought this was a patriots’ meeting, but this is a traitors’ meeting!” The mood of the nation switched just as rapidly. Admiral Takijirou Onishi had been absolutely correct: Americans had become “insanely mad” at what they considered naked treachery.
The anger was to burn in some for half a century.
In Tokyo, Japanese gathered around loudspeakers and began clapping. They gathered outside the Imperial Palace bowing their heads in prayer. Hirohito penned his thoughts through Marquis Kido: Friendship had been the “guiding principle of our Empire’s foreign policy. It has been unavoidable and far from our wishes that our Empire has now been brought to cross swords with America and Britain.” Instead of declaring as pre-written that the war’s purpose was “raising and enhancing the glory of the Imperial Way within and outside our homeland,” Hirohito edited it to read: “. . . preserving thereby the glory of our Empire.”
Prince Konoye heard the news on his radio and was crestfallen. “It is a terrible thing. . . . I know that a tragic defeat awaits us at the end. Our luck will not last more than two or three months at most.”
* * * * *
At Pearl Harbor, the second wave of the attack delivered another body blow from 0915 to 0945. Then the attackers flew off to the north. Opana radar, which had been turned back on at 0900, tracked the planes north but the Army didn’t tell the Navy which was sending its remaining planes looking for the carriers to the south and west. Fuchida was the last to land at 1300. He, Genda and others argued strenuously but futilely with Nagumo to renew the attack. The crucial oil tanks had yet to be hit. With them gone, the remaining American fleet would be powerless. But the admiral was adamant.
Kido butai turned for home.
Yamamoto put the operation in bridge terms. It was, he decided, a “small slam, barely made. . . second-class thinking.”
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* * * * *
It is little remembered that there was a second Pearl Harbor. Ten hours after being alerted to the first, Japanese planes struck Clark Field in the Philippines, destroying one hundred and two planes, including all but three of General Brereton’s B-17s. He had pleaded with MacArthur to attack Japanese air bases in Formosa. MacArthur replied through his aide, Major General Richard K. Sutherland, that he had been ordered not to make “the first overt act.” What was Pearl Harbor if not an overt act? Brereton demanded. While the debate went on, the Japanese, at first delayed by fog, hit near high noon, finding MacArthur’s planes nearly lined up in rows like the shooting gallery it was. “What the hell!” roared Air Corps chief Hap Arnold when he heard about it.
* * * * *
At 1458 in Honolulu, Tadeo Fuchikami finally made his delivery of Marshall’s alert to the “Commanding General” at Fort Shafter. It was thrown in a wastebasket without carrying out the request to pass it on to the Navy.
“For a while I thought the Day of Infamy had been my fault,” Fuchikami mused many years later. Then I realized I was just one of the sands of time.”
The Pearl Harbor attack had left eighteen warships sunk or damaged, including five battleships, and one hundred and eighty-eight planes destroyed. The raid killed two thousand four hundred and three Americans. The Japanese lost twenty-nine planes and fifty-five fliers. Kido butai returned home with three hundred and twenty-four surviving planes.
Excerpt from Pearl Harbor: An AP Special Anniversary Edition – Used by permission of The Associated Press
Featured image : Sailors stand among wrecked airplanes at Ford Island Naval Air Station as they watch the explosion of the USS Shaw in the background, during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, HI, December 7, 1941. (AP Photo)