At 7:48 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, a two-hour surprise attack was commenced by the Japanese on U.S. troops on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Three hundred and fifty three Japanese aircraft dropped bombs and strafed with machine gun fire, 100 U.S. Navy ships and the surrounding Army Air Corps and Marine airfield at Pearl Harbor.
Twenty-one ships were severely damaged or sunk including the USS Arizona. It remains 38 feet below the water's surface, a tomb for most of the 1,177 crewmen who were on board that day.
Straddled by a memorial, the sunken battleship still emits oil, a haunting reminder to visitors of the carnage created by the unprovoked attack 72 years ago.
A total of 2,403 American troops and civilians died at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. In turn, Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on Dec, 11, 1941. When World War II ended in 1945, 72 million people from 55 countries were dead, 418,500 of them from the United States. More than 565,860 Americans were wounded.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito finally broadcast surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, about a week after the United Sates dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing an estimated 220,000 Japanese.
Sixty years later, Americans endured another day of infamy on their own soil when nearly 3,000 people were killed in a series of attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Operatives of al-Qaida, engineered by exiled Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, flew hi-jacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in northern Virginia and a field in Pennsylvania.
Bin Laden was finally brought to justice in May 2011 by a team of elite Navy SEALS who executed him at his compound in Pakistan, but not without the loss of thousands of lives in Afghanistan where American troops were originally sent to root him out in October 2001 and where troops remain today. Nearly 5,000 more American lives were lost when George W. Bush sent troops to Iraq in March 2003 on the unfounded premise of uncovering weapons of mass destruction.
While the attack on Pearl Harbor left all Americans reeling, none were more scarred by the unprovoked bombing than those who were there and lived to tell about it.
Dozens of Delaware County residents survived Pearl Harbor. Most of them have since passed on. Over the years several have recounted their memories of that infamous day in the Daily Times.
Everett A. Swanson, for whom the ball field at Glen Mills School in Thornbury is named, was among the oldest Pearl Harbor survivors living in Delaware County when he died this past Aug. 30 at the age of 97. He was a first class petty officer aboard the USS Curtiss, a 10,000-ton seaplane-tender, when the attack commenced that fateful Sunday morning 72 years ago. Swanson had congregated with his shipmates on the stern of the main deck for religious services when he noticed a large group of planes headed their way.
He at first thought they were U.S. Army planes practicing dive bombs until he noticed the rising sun insignia of Japan on the wings. Close to 100 of his shipmates were killed. Many more were wounded.
George H. Smith of Middletown attended local and national reunions of Pearl Harbor survivors regularly until his death on March 15, 2012, at age 95. He was a petty officer aboard the USS Ash when he witnessed the forward magazines of the USS Arizona exploding from a Japanese bomb. Smith never lost sight of the long-range impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Eventually 16 million of us were in uniform. All of us were doing our job to save the United States of America from the Axis powers in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific,” said Smith in 2010.
Indeed, Americans should never forget the date that will live in infamy resulted in the deadliest war in the history of humanity.