Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day: History & How to Observe It
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day commemorates the events that led to the United States entering World War II. On December 7, 1941, a surprise attack by Japanese forces devastated the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing over 2,000 American people, injuring many more, and landing a devastating blow on the American fleet. Read on to learn more about Pearl Harbor and how you can honor those who were lost.
What is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day?
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day occurs every year on December 7 in the United States and pays tribute to those who perished in the attack in 1941. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is a national holiday, a day to remember those who were lost in the attacks and reflect on how this single event changed the course of world history. As it is not a federal holiday, businesses and schools do not close, but some may have a moment of silence or other acknowledgement to memorialize Pearl Harbor.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Events & Outcome
The events of December 7, 1941At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked US naval base Pearl Harbor. More than 2,000 Americans died in the attacks, and a great many more were injured.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but Japan and the United States had been edging toward war for years. In 1937, Japan had declared war on China, resulting in horrible atrocities, and the US responded with many economic sanctions and trade embargoes, expecting that this would curb Japan’s expansionism. Unfortunately, these sanctions made the Japanese even more determined, and negotiations between the two nations went nowhere.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is located near the center of the Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,000 miles from the coast of the United States, and 4,000 miles from Japan. No one believed that Japan would attack Hawaii given its remote location, and it was left underdefended. A majority of the Pacific Fleet was moored in the harbor, and hundreds of airplanes where on nearby airfields, making is a particularly appetizing target for Japanese forces.
Japan’s plan was to destroy the Pacific Fleet so that American forces would be unable to interfere as Japan planned to expand throughout the South Pacific. Early in the morning on December 7, 1941, Japanese planes rained bombs and bullets on the ships moored at Pearl Harbor.
The outcome of the attack on Pearl Harbor
A 1,800-pound bomb smashed through the deck of the battleship USS Arizona and exploded, sinking the ship and trapping more than 1,000 servicemembers inside. The attack lasted less than two hours but the devastation was severe. Many of the ships in the Pacific Fleet had sustained significant damage, including the USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS Nevada. In all, more than 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes were destroyed or damaged, along with their docks and airfields. The most devastating losses, of course, were the 2,403 American people who perished. An additional 1,178 people were wounded. More than half of the people who died were on board the USS Arizona.
However, the Pacific Fleet was not completely crippled. By the time of the attack in the 1940’s, battleships were no longer the most important naval vessels, that honor was for aircraft carriers. Coincidentally, all of the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers were away from the base on December 7, leaving them all unscathed. The attack also failed to damage the oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards, and submarine docks, which allowed the Navy to repair and rebuild much faster than anticipated.
Although the purpose of Japan’s attacks on Pearl Harbor were to deter American forces from joining World War II, their plans backfired. Spurred by the surprise attack, Americans united in their willingness to join the war effort, and on December 8, 1941, Congress approved President Roosevelt’s declaration of war against Japan. More than two years after World War II began, the US entered the conflict, eventually playing a crucial role in ending the war in 1945.
How to Honor Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
While people have commemorated December 7 every year since the attacks, to remember those who were lost, it wasn’t until August 23, 1994, that Congress designated the day as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Every year people gather at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial early in the morning, to honor the moments of the attack and those who perished. This year, the 81st anniversary, will honor the theme of the “Greatest Generation’s Everlasting Legacy”. The Greatest Generation refers to those who served during World War II, either overseas or at home supporting the war effort, and this year’s focus will take a look at how their impact “saved us from tyranny and brought us peace through reconciliation.”
Throughout the day there will be many ceremonies and commemorations at the Pearl Harbor sites. If you are unable to attend but still wish to witness the events, you can find livestream links here: www.pearlharborevents.com/eventschedule
Other Ways to Honor Pearl Harbor Remembrance DayThere are many other ways that you can honor Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Fly flags at half-staff
o If your place of business has an American flag outside, it is customary to fly the flag at half-staff until sundown.
o Alternatively, for flags at home that can’t be flown at half-staff, it’s become common to affix a black crepe streamer to the staff of the flag, just below the top.
- Watch a documentary on the Pearl Harbor attacks
o Between streaming services and cable channels, there is no shortage of content to watch about Pearl Harbor. Check your local channel listings for Pearl Harbor interviews and specials or watch a documentary online. Remember Pearl Harbor and History of Pearl Harbor: A Documentary are just some examples of documentaries that are available on the web.
- Observe a moment of silence
o The Pearl Harbor attack happened at 7:55 a.m. and a simple way to honor this day is to take a minute or two at that time to reflect on the events and how they changed the course of history.
A Day That Will Live in Infamy
This Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day we at Garmont honor those who served, not only of the Greatest Generation in World War II, but all Veterans, and we hope that you will take a few moments to remember their service and sacrifice. May we never forget the past, and always strive towards a better future.