A most infamous day


Jerry Wilkerson

It was a balmy Sunday December morning on the island paradise of Hawaii, blue skies, scattered clouds, a slight breeze and temperatures, just after sunrise, nudging 75. Civilians and our serving military men and women, on this day of rest, were preparing for church services.

Many were still in the bunks enjoying the bliss of this atoll on God’s day.

At 7:48 a.m. December 7, 1941 suddenly, without warning, out of the eastern sun, as if coming from America, materialized the searing silhouettes of Japanese aircraft. They were dispatched from six aircraft carriers scattered safely beyond the horizon. 408 aircraft in two waves attacked the Navy port and air stations. The carriers sailed 4,000 miles to execute their mission of carnage. The massive strike force was premeditated to kill Americans, destroy and sink the Pacific Fleet and extinguish our will to fight. The Japanese did not attack on this day simply because the weather was good. It was our Sabbath, and a date that still lives in Infamy.

The assault on Pearl Harbor brought unintended consequences to both sides. December 7, 1941 was the vat of explosives that reshaped the world. Isolationist America became an internationalist country on the morning of December 8 when President Roosevelt resolutely declared war in the iconic ten-minute speech “A date that will live in infamy” before Congress.

The Japanese government hoped that America would accept defeat after their stealthy battering and they could build a fortress of Imperial ambitions across the Pacific Rim. Japan’s burning aggression for empire building was born out of frustration, as they chased power and control of the west. The U.S. and Japan had been in an economic war for decades. They wanted control of China shipping ports, the Dutch East Indies and Malaya for natural resources of raw material including oil and rubber.

The war ended four years and nine months later. The battleship U.S.S. Missouri was anchored in Tokyo Harbor. On September 2, 1946 at precisely 9:00 a.m. the 23-minute ceremony on the tectona grandis (teak) wood plank deck of the 58,000-ton war ship was somber and solemn. The “Mighty MO” was the flag ship of the third fleet.

General MacArthur ordered that the uniform of the day would be khakis, open shirts, no ties. Permission to board the ship was officially granted the 11 Japanese emissaries, eight U.S. seamen, all well over six feet tall, lined the gangway as the Empire of Japan envoys passed between them. The sailors were specifically picked to show the Allied superiority and intimidate the delegation. Not one major Allied military officer saluted the Japanese.

The Allied documents were bound in leather, the unconditional Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Canvas. As the Japanese left the ship the sun burst through as 450 Navy carrier planes followed by waves of Army Air Force B-29 bombers flew low in formation over the bay—more aircraft than the total Japanese planes that attacked Pearl Harbor.

Jerry Wilkerson lives in SaddleBrooke. He is a former press secretary for two U.S. Congressmen and a former Chicago CBS radio reporter and talk-show host. Email at [email protected]