On December 7, 1941, the United States of America was attacked by the nation of Japan. As I read this book, the thought that continually ran through my mind is how would I have responded had I been there?
This book focuses almost entirely upon December 7, 1941. It does not go into what happened that led to the attack. While there are a few loose ends that occurred after December 7, 1941 that are covered, the focus of this book is the reactions of various individuals as they saw the attack, assumed it was some kind of drill, and then realized that the United States was under attack.
It is easy to sit back and pretend that you would have responded differently. It is easy to pretend that you would have reacted much quicker and thus saved the lives of many by your quick response. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Most people who read this book will have never served in the military. As such, you do not understand how your commanding officers are constantly doing strange things to test your readiness. The problem with this is that after a while, you have experienced so many “surprised” drills, that when the real thing occurs, one many not recognize the threat as soon as you should have. There were numerous individuals that even after the first couple of torpedoes hitting a battleship, they still thought it was some kind of Army/Navy war game.
One of the benefits of all training the military gave is that so many soldiers did not freak out when they realized that they were attacked. When the soldiers did realize that they were under attack, the soldiers relied upon their training and they quickly went to work.
In this book, the author tells the story through the eyes of hundreds of individuals. One of my favorite stories is the men who were playing the Star Spangled Banner when the attack began. Even though a Japanese plane was shooting at them, there was no way that they were going to stop playing the National Anthem, you just don’t stop playing mid-tune.
Another great story is the one of a sailor who found himself in the harbor as his ship sunk. He looked up and saw the Battleship Nevada gathering steam. Instead of thinking about his own safety, he swam towards the Battleship and someone threw him a line and he climbed aboard, ready to fight the Japanese.
It is hard to think about what it would have been like to be the wife of an officer with young children. Not knowing what was going to happen. Had the Japanese army landed on the Island? Throughout the day there were all sorts of rumors about landings. You must remember that over the last couple of years, the newspapers were full of stories about the Rape of Nanking. As such, there were more than one woman who had a pistol ready to shoot their own children and then themselves if they saw the Japanese army.
As we honor those who died at Pearl Harbor over 75 years ago, we need to take the time to understand the world that they lived in at that time. Our world and our experiences do not do you any good if you are trying to understand what it was like to be an American soldier in 1941. If you really think that things would be different now, don’t fool yourself, just remember the surprise attack on 9/11.
I would highly encourage you to read this book so that you can gain a better understanding as to why the World War II generation is called the greatest generation. The first step in not forgetting Pearl Harbor begins with reading the first-hand stories of those who were there at the time. As you understand what happened through their eyes, you should be less judgmental and much more understanding.
December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy. Let us never forget.