The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred 75 years ago – on December 7, 1941. The day that “will live in infamy” is remembered by only 2.3 percent of today’s population. Of the 16 million American soldiers who served in WWII, only 855,000 are still with us. That is just four percent, with 492 dying each day. So this is a good day to reflect. I offer you five facts about the bombing of Pearl Harbor you probably didn’t know.
My dad served in the South Pacific during the War. I still have his Army trunk, uniform, and medals. WWII brings special meaning to me and my family. The proud service of my dad and his dad (WWI) are why I didn’t have to fight in a WWIII. I’ve been to Pearl Harbor. It is a sobering experience. I hope you enjoy the facts below, as we reflect on the ruthless attack that left 2,403 dead and 1,178 injured.
1. Some of the battleships sunk that day were resurrected.
Of the eight battleships that were targeted during the attacks, all but two were eventually repaired and returned to the U.S. Navy’s fleet. The USS West Virginia and the USS California had both sunk completely, but the Navy raised them, repaired them, and reused them.
Furthermore, bullet holes and damages from the attacks can be seen to this day at many of the active military installations on Oahu, including Schofield Barracks. Rather than repair or cover up the damage, the bullet holes serve as a reminder of the lives lost that day and as motivation for our military to never relax.
2. Veterans of the attack can be laid to rest at Pearl Harbor.
Survivors of the attack have the option to join their lost comrades and make Pearl Harbor their final resting place. Crewmembers who served on board the USS Arizona – which experienced the most devastating damage – may choose to have their ashes deposited by divers beneath one of the sunken Arizona’s gun turrets. Roughly 30 Arizona survivors have chosen this option and less than a dozen of the 355 survivors are known to still be alive.
3. The USS Arizona still leaks fuel.
The day before the attack, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel – nearly 1.5 million gallons. Much of that fuel helped ignite the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ship, but – amazingly – some of that fuel continues to seep out of the wreckage. According to the History Channel, the Arizona “continues to spill up to nine quarts of oil into the harbor each day and visitors often say it is as if the ship were still bleeding.”
4. Servicemen stationed in Hawaii took care of the memorial during the 2013 government shutdown.
Servicemen stationed in Hawaii treat Pearl Harbor as a living memorial and have been known to rally around it when times are tough. In October, 2013, for instance, when the U.S. government shut down for more than two weeks, no one was around to take care of the memorial site. A spontaneous group of servicemen and their families gathered to tend to the seemingly abandoned site, raking, weeding, and mowing the overgrown grass. Their message, they said, was to all veterans: “We haven’t forgotten about you. We will not forget about you.”
5. Many tourists from Japan come to visit the memorial.
While most school children can tell you that the Japanese were responsible for the attacks on Pearl Harbor, not everyone realizes that the Japanese now visit the memorial in droves. Japan, now one of America’s strongest allies, is the largest source of international tourists to the state of Hawaii. They pay their respects at Pearl Harbor just as Americans do, and ironically, the economic vitality of Hawaii today depends largely on tourism from Japan.
When we think of defining moments in American history, we think of Pearl Harbor. What was once stamped into Americans’ memories is now mostly American history. Amazingly, the time that has lapsed from Pearl Harbor until today is the same as the span of Reconstruction to Pearl Harbor.
I suggest you find a WWII veteran today – though it may not be easy. Tell him thanks for saving a nation and freedom for us all. Then offer a prayer of gratitude for those who suffered and died – 75 years ago.
In all of American history, two words capture the heart of American greatness, birthed from the horror and tragedy of war.