December 7, 1941. “A day that will live in infamy”, as President Roosevelt said in his speech before Congress, when announcing the declaration of war, on the 8th of December.
The Japanese had hit our fleet at Pearl Harbor in a sneak attack that destroyed almost all of the aircraft stationed there and sank or damaged most of the Pacific fleet. It was a disaster for the US.
The battleship Arizona was one of the ships that sunk and the crew of 2,500 went down with the ship and remain entombed there to this day.
Pearl Harbor had been thought to be a safe haven for the fleet due to the long distance from Japan. However, the Japanese thought differently.
That the Japanese could travel across thousands of miles of sea and escape detection was unthinkable. You would think that such an armada of battleships, aircraft carriers and a vast fleet of support ships would be seen by someone. But it was not so.
The shock value of the attack was such that it united Americans as nothing else could. People were so enraged that the country was ready to fight, and a declaration of war followed immediately.
However, the United States was so poorly prepared for war that soon we realized that a long and bitter time of fighting lay ahead. A time of arming our forces, training our troops, and yes, a time of civilian shortages to be endured.
What the country needed was a “pick-me-up,” and Jimmy Doolittle had just the medicine. He had answered the call to serve and had the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Secretly he and a group of airmen had been training for a daring raid on Tokyo by a group of 16 B-25 bombers. They would fly from the aircraft carrier Hornet in a surprise attack on the Japanese capital.
I flew the B-25 in advanced flight school and it was a delight, but if you had asked me if it could launch from an aircraft carrier with a five man crew, a load of fuel and bombs I would have thought you had lost your mind.
But that is just what they did. And they managed to drop some bombs on the capital. They didn’t do much damage, but it undoubtedly shook up the Japanese and most importantly it gave America a big lift. It was sort of an in-your-face act that said: “This is just a start, but we’ll be back later with a lot more”.
It certainly did a great deal for the morale of the American public. The raid had done little physical damage to Japan, but it was a victory, albeit a small one, that came at a time when it was badly needed. The utter audacity of the plan was so American, and it offered a small flicker of hope that maybe better times lay ahead.
Those better times did eventually come when our airmen and ground troops, along with our Navy carried the fight to the enemy all across the Pacific and in Europe as well. It was a long hard slog.
So on December 7 stop for a moment and say a prayer for those who gave their lives so that you might be free.
Charles Eurey is a veteran of World War II and served overseas. He can be reached at 704-735-6535.