Today — Saturday — marks the 78th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
The battleship USS Arizona, all these years later, remains a watery grave on the sea floor for 1,177 officers and crewmen who perished during the attack; their bodies were never recovered.
“No gravesite is more sacred to the U.S. Navy than the USS Arizona,” Adm. John Fuller, commander of the Navy Region Hawaii, told families not long ago, AZCentral.com reported this week.
On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was working on his stamp collection in his private study in the White House.
It was 1:47 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
“The phone rings at this desk — it is the secretary of the Navy on the line,” Herman Eberhardt, curator at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York, told CBS News several years ago. “He tells the president that the Pearl Harbor naval base is under attack.”
How did Roosevelt respond?
“[His] first reaction was to shout into the phone, ‘No!’ sort of in a state of disbelief,” Eberhardt said.
The attack was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at 7:48 a.m. local time on that long-ago morning, just a few weeks before Christmas.
The attack led to America’s entry into World War II in the Pacific and European theaters.
The death toll of the Japanese attack was high — 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 others were wounded.
Over the next seven hours, there were also Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island, and on the British Empire in Malaya, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
The base was attacked in two waves by 353 Imperial Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes, which launched from six aircraft carriers.
All eight U.S. Navy battleships at Pearl Harbor were damaged — and four eventually sunk. All but the USS Arizona were later raised, and six were even returned to active service and went onto fight in the war.
Japanese losses in the attack were light — 29 aircraft and five midget submarines were lost, and 64 Japanese servicemen killed. A lone Japanese sailor, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured.
The surprise attack shocked Americans, many of whom had previously been reluctant to enter the war. The next day, December 8, the U.S. declared war on Japan.
Just over 20 years later, the USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated, on Memorial Day in 1962, to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor — and all the Americans who lost their lives that day.
In 1980, the National Park Service began operating the memorial and visitor center, and in 1989, the USS Arizona was designated a national historic landmark. Every year, about 1.6 million people from all over the world visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial.
In a haunting daily reminder of the events of that “Day of Infamy,” as it is known, oil still bubbles to the surface of the water from the USS Arizona.
“Every few moments, small bursts of oil that have been locked in darkness for more than seven decades suddenly escape from the fuel tanks of the sunken hull of the USS Arizona,” reads the prologue to the book, “Renewal at the Place of Black Tears” by Jerome A. Kaufman.
“Like spirits silently ascending from the past, these ‘black tears’ quietly surface to spread across the water. There swirled by the breeze and tide, they move in a rhythmic dance choreographed by the natural conditions of the day.
“Pearl Harbor survivors were the first to use the expression ‘black tears,’ as well as ‘tears of the Arizona,'” the prologue continues.
Robert Van Druff of Montgomery County, Maryland, was a young Navy fire control man second class aboard the USS Aylwin the morning of December 7. He was reading the funny pages of a Honolulu newspaper when the attacks began. The Aylwin was moored at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
“The general alarm went off,” Van Druff, 97, told the Baltimore Sun several years ago. “We were being attacked, planes flying around and dropping bombs.”
Francis Cinque of Muncie, Indiana, was on duty as a radio operator on the warship USS Augusta moored at Newport, Rhode Island, on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I was sitting in front of a typewriter, copying shortwave radio messages, you know, dit-dah stuff,” Cinque, 97, told The Star Press three years ago, just before the 75th anniversary. “The dit-dah came over as ‘urgent message’ and it said, in effect, ‘This is no drill. The [Japanese] bombed Pearl Harbor. Execute War Plan 46 against Japan’ … I immediately pulled it out of the typewriter and gave it to the watch supervisor, who gave it to the captain and we were at war. That was it.”
He continued, “It was a big shock, of course. First it was shock, then it was anger, then it was a desire for revenge.”
Cinque and all the other American service members who served in World War II were to claim the ultimate victory — World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers on May 8, 1945 — less than two weeks after Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
Cinque has read more than once the names of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice at Pearl Harbor, during visits there after the war.
“It’s ridiculous, but I cry every time,” he told The Star Press.
“Most of us were just kids. Don’t ask me their names. I don’t want to think about it. They’re memories I don’t need.”
This article appeared earlier in LifeZette and has been updated.