Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a historic visit to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 26. He will become the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the site since it was attacked on December 7, 1941. Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor killed more than 2,000, wounded more than 1,000, and pulled the U.S. into World War II. To mark the 75th anniversary of the event, Abe will go to the base with President Barack Obama. In May, Obama visited the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb towards the end of the war.
“We must never repeat the horrors of war,” Abe told reporters in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday. “I want to express that determination as we look to the future, and at the same time send a message about the value of U.S.-Japanese reconciliation.”
The Memories Live On
Alfred Rodrigues, 96, still remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was there to see it happen. Rodrigues was a third-class storekeeper with the U.S. Navy on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. He recalls sitting in his barracks while on morning watch. “I was just about to eat my breakfast when we heard explosions from the shipyard,” Rodrigues says. “[The Navy] sounded the alarms, saying ‘Man your battle stations! Man your battle stations! This is not a drill!’”
Rodrigues was handed a rifle and ran outside to help defend the base. He looked up to see the attacking Japanese aircraft. “I started shooting up at the planes,” he says. “They were flying so low, you could see the faces of the pilots.”
The attack began shortly before 8 a.m. and was over within two hours. Japanese bombs and warplanes caused massive damage to the U.S. Naval Fleet, sinking or damaging 19 ships, including two battleships that were totally lost. Nearly 300 airplanes were damaged or destroyed.
The U.S.S. Arizona was one of the battleships that were lost at Pearl Harbor. Dick Girocco, a crew chief for the U.S. Navy, was working in Hangar 54 when he heard explosions and took cover in a nearby trench. He remained there for the entire attack.
“We were in a ditch when the Arizona exploded,” Girocco says. “The concussion (hard blow) from that was so severe that it actually shook the ground like an earthquake.” More than 1,100 servicemen were aboard the Arizona when it sank.
The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress and the American people. He said that December 7 was “a date which will live in infamy.” Infamy is the state of being famous for an evil act. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Japan. He got it—and the U.S. officially entered World War II.
After the war, Pearl Harbor became part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Other sites that commemorate the attack, and the lives that were lost, are located in Alaska and California. In Hawaii, about 2 million people visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial each year.
The Pacific Aviation Museum of Pearl Harbor is another key source of historical information about the attack. It offers tours during which visitors can learn in detail what happened at the base. Shauna Tonkin, the museum’s director of education, says it’s important to look at the event from both sides of the conflict. “These people are humans, and humans make mistakes,” she says. “It’s not healthy to carry grudges across generations.”
Rodrigues agrees. He was born in Hawaii and grew up with many Japanese friends. He says he does not hold any resentment toward the Japanese today. “They were doing what they were told when you are at war,” he says. “Just like I was doing what I was told to do at war.”
Tonkin hopes that on the 75th anniversary people spend the day honoring the men and women who served the country. “There was great sacrifice and courage at Pearl Harbor,” she says. “From it came hope and [eventually] friendship between Japan and the U.S.”