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 - President Franklin Roosevelt
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, propelled the United States in World War II. Seventy-seven years later, local historian Tom Higdon presented a program about the event at the Neosho Newton County Library on Monday. The audience ranged from senior citizens to children. Some of those present remembered the event.
Higdon began the program on Monday by displaying a book about the event and a model of the USS Arizona, both of which stoked his lifelong interest in World War II and history.
"I built it 4, 5, or 6 times, whatever many times my parents would let me buy another," he said. "When I was in Vietnam, my wife met me in Hawaii and on the second day we went to see the USS Arizona Memorial. I've been back several times."
Each Monday at 1 p.m. the library presents a historical program to the public in the Community Room. For December, the presentation centered on the attack on Pearl Harbor. Higdon shared a power point of photographs from Pearl Harbor both then and now including some that were taken from some of the Japanese aircraft that day.
"Seventy-seven years ago this Friday, the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, was a day of infamy," Higdon said, referencing President Franklin Roosevelt's remarks when he declared war on Japan the day following the attack. "That threw us into World War II, a mega war fought all over the world."
Higdon explained how the attack happened for a crowd that ranged from senior citizens to children.
"The Japanese Fleet left Japan under complete secrecy and traveled 4,000 miles to see if they could make the trip and not be detected."
The fleet sailed from Japan on November 26. On December 7, the fleet arrived north of the island of Oahu and prepared for war. At daylight, aircraft took off in the first of three planned strikes although just two were made.
The first wave hit Pearl Harbor at 8 a.m. that Sunday morning and the second at 9 a.m. The attack hit both Naval ships and airfields based at Pearl Harbor. Airfields that were hit included Hickam, Wheeler, Ford Island, Kaneohe, and Ewa.
"They thought they'd done enough damage," Higdon said, speaking why the third wave didn't take place. "But they made a big mistake."
Higdon listed the reasons why which included Japanese failure to take out the Navy shipyards, which allowed many of the ships to be repaired and put back into service. They also did not bomb the oil fields nor capture any of the U.S. aircraft carriers.
Also according to Higdon, Japan had planned to declare war prior to the attack.
"The Japanese consulate had gotten all the secret messages and were supposed to declare war before but they were late getting the message to Secretary of State Hull.
"We weren't in war," Higdon said about the timing of the attack on Pearl Harbor. "War had not been declared."
Higdon mentioned some local men who were at Pearl Harbor. One was Clifford Goodwin, Diamond, who died on the USS Oklahoma. Goodwin's remains were not identified or returned until last May when he was buried at Diamond Cemetery with fully military honors.
Another local man who was in service at Pearl Harbor was Pete Collier, Neosho. Collier, who was later elected Newton County Sheriff. Collier was known as "Pearl Harbor Pete" and late was "Two Gun Pete."
"I visited with Pete - he was on the USS Ogala and he was one of the last to get off of it before it sank," Higdon said. "I visited with Pete and I asked him what it was like. He said, "It was a lot better than staying on it." He was a man of few words."
Pearl Harbor was America's catalyst into the war.
"America was a neutral nation. We were trying to stay out of it," Higdon said. "But Roosevelt thought it would be inevitable."
Roosevelt declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941. A few days later, on December 11, Germany also declared war on the United States, making it a two-front war.
Around 20 American naval vessels including 8 battleships and more than 300 aircraft.
More than 2400 Americans, both military and civilians, died, 1177 of those on the USS Arizona. More than 900 men remain entombed in the ship which is still submerged in Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona Memorial is currently closed for some repairs. Another 1,000 were wounded.
Today, the USS Missouri, where Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, is anchored beside the USS Arizona Memorial.
"It represents the beginning and the end," Higdon said. He also noted that over the decades, U.S. and Japanese relations have been restored. "Today, we're great friends with the Japanese. They're one of our greatest allies."