US Homefront WW2 Unit (Where were you Dec 7th? - Handout #1) Illustration

December 7, 1941

Some events are so important in our lives that we remember every detail. Sometimes these events are personal such as weddings, births, graduations, or family celebrations. Sometimes these events are national such as the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Of all the events of World War II, the attack on Pearl Harbor seems to stand out for most Americans. There were other very important events during the war -- D-Day, the death of President Roosevelt, victory in Europe, and the atom bomb, to name a few.

But the one event that Americans seem to recall in detail is Pearl Harbor.

What Happened?

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the naval and army installations at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Hawaii was not yet a state of the United States. At that time, Hawaii was a territory of the United States and a base for the American Pacific Fleet.

The Japanese destroyed or disabled most of the United States fleet. Fortunately the aircraft carriers were at sea during the attack and escaped destruction.

Thousands of American lives were lost as the ships exploded.

On December 8, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on the Japanese. His address was broadcast around the nation by radio:

TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan

The United States was at peace with the nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or warmed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

What were Americans doing
on Sunday, December 7, 1941

In general, America was beginning to recover from the depths of the Depression. For many, the approaching Christmas season promised to be more cheerful than it had for some time.

Two Personal Accounts:

Carolyn Gregory Perkins was 14 years old in 1941. She lived in the central Kansas town of Osborne. The family had moved from their family farm outside of town when her father was forced to sell it because of the Depression. Carolyn was a freshman in high school. The strongest memory she has about what she heard was the surprise and shock expressed by the adults. The next day the entire school was called to an assembly in the auditorium of the high school. On the stage was a radio and the students listened as President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Japanese. "I knew things were serious because my parents were so worried, but the whole thing became real for me when my brother was sent overseas." (Carolyn Gregory Perkins, Interview by Margaret Brooks, October 16, 1991)

Barbara Campbell Magerl was 9 years old in December 1941. She lived in Kansas City and her father worked on the railroad. One of Barbara's most vivid memories is the newsboys calling "EXTRA!" when a special edition of the newspaper came out to report the attack. "That was exciting because it was just like in the movies." The next two days were exciting and frightening as her brother in the navy and her brother-in-law in the national guard, both home on holiday, were called immediately back to duty. (Barbara Cambell Margerl, Interview by Margaret Brooks, October 22, 1991)

Information from Through My Eyes, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Co-Sponsored by the National Archives-Central Plains Region and the Johnson County Museum System, reprinted by permission.

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