During the Christmas season, we actually tend to be more thankful for things that we more easily overlook at other times of the year. Things as foundational as family, friends, and a warm place to lay our heads at night become focal points.
Americans also seem to be keenly aware of the sacrifice members of our military make in being apart from their families throughout the Christmas season. And with the 70th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor upon us, the sacrifices our military makes on our behalf should be more paramount in our minds.
December 7, 1941 was a Sunday which started like any other. It was “just another day” in American life, where individuals both in and out of the military around Oahu, Hawaii had their coffee, ate breakfast, went to church, and/or went about whatever morning business they needed to handle.
The American experience was simply that—it was the “norm” to which we were accustomed at the leisurely pace which we took for granted.
Yet at dawn on that Sunday, 200 miles out from Pearl Harbor, a Japanese taskforce was preparing to attack. Their numbers were significant—six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by 24 supporting vessels, along with a separate group of submarines to sink any American warships which escaped the Japanese carrier force—and their goal was to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
At approximately 7 a.m., the Japanese launched their attack, and an hour later, ships docked at Pearl Harbor were bombarded with Japanese ordnance.
Although there were 90 ships in total sitting like ducks for the Japanese to sink, the Japanese initially focused their weapons on the battleships. And within the first 30 minutes of their attack, they had sunk the USS West Virginia and USS Oklahoma. They had taken the USS Arizona out of the game with an explosion that killed nearly 1,200 crewmen. The USS California, USS Maryland, USS Tennessee, and USS Nevada had all also been hit within the first half hour of the attacks.
The attacks continued until just before 10 a.m., and by the time they were over, many American ships had suffered varying degrees of damage. In addition to the West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Maryland, Tennessee, and Nevada, the USS Pennsylvania, the cruisers USS Helena, USS Honolulu, and USS Raleigh; the destroyers USS Cassin, USS Downes, USS Helm and USS Shaw; seaplane tender USS Curtiss; target ship (ex-battleship) USS Utah; repair ship USS Vestal; minelayer USS Oglala; tug USS Sotoyomo; and Floating Drydock Number 2 had all been hit.
Suddenly, the American experience was not something to be taken for granted. Freedom was under was attack, and within two hours, we had lost or seen damaged 21 ships of the Pacific Fleet, 347 aircraft, and most importantly, the lives of well over 2,300 American servicemen along with 68 civilians.
That total number of American dead would eventually be placed at over 2,400 once those within the bowels of the partially submerged ships succumbed to the mixture of oil and water in which they were trapped following the attacks. (Prior to death, some of these brave souls attempted to say good-bye to their loved ones by tapping messages in Morse code against the interior walls of the ships.) No wonder President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy.”
While the sacrifice of those at Pearl Harbor is a perpetual reminder to each of us that freedom isn’t free, it is especially so this year as we have come to the 70th anniversary of the attacks.
God bless our men and women in uniform this Christmas season. Bless them please, and make them brave, and may each of us keep them in our prayers as we gather with our families and friends in celebration of Christ’s birth.