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The attack on Pearl Harbor

There is no-one alive today in The Legal Genealogist‘s family who personally remembers that day, eighty years ago today.

My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles old enough to have a personal recollection of that day have all passed on: my one surviving uncle was only three years old; my one surviving aunt not born yet.

Eighty years ago today.

When World War II came to American shores.

Pearl Harbor telegram

The Japanese raid on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, began just before 8 a.m. on that first Sunday in December. More than 2,400 Americans — service personnel and civilians alike — died during and after the roughly two-hour raid. Nineteen naval ships, including six battleships, were damaged or destroyed. “The battleship USS Arizona remains sunken in Pearl Harbor with its crew onboard. Half of the dead at Pearl Harbor were on the Arizona.”1

The attack was facially a stunning success for the Axis powers:

For nearly two hours, Japanese firepower rained down upon American ships and servicemen. … (T)he attack inflicted significant destruction, (and) the … Japanese … immediately followed their Pearl Harbor assault with attacks against US and British bases in the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, Wake Island, Malaya, and Hong Kong. Within days, the Japanese were masters of the Pacific.2

But… the prize jewels of the American fleet — the aircraft carriers — were not at Pearl Harbor that Sunday, where the Japanese Navy thought they would be. And the will of the United States to fight back was stronger than the Axis powers had hoped it would be. The very next day, Monday, the 8th of December, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress:

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 that 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 the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed 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.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong: Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces with the unbounding determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.3

No, no-one is alive today in The Legal Genealogist‘s family who personally remembers that day, eighty years ago today.

And generations of genealogists will ensure that it is never forgotten.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Eighty years ago today,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 7 Dec 2021).


Image: Radiogram, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) to all ships in Hawaiian area, December 7, 1941; Record Group 181; U.S. National Archives.

  1. National World War II Museum, “Remembering Pearl Harbor: A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet,” PDF online at U.S. Census Bureau, ( : accessed 7 Dec 2021).
  2. The Path to Pearl Harbor,” National World War II Museum ( : accessed 7 Dec 2021).
  3. Speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York (Transcript),” Library of Congress ( : accessed 7 Dec 2021).
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