Thursday, December 7, 2023


With each passing year, fewer and fewer are here who were there.  A couple decades ago, my family and I had just moved to Ohio.  We went to a local Irish festival that August.  There was a 'genealogy tent' there, and we went in to browse around.  In the crowd of people, I noticed an old codger, walking about on a cane and wearing a yellow cap.  I could tell from behind it was a veteran's cap.

Sizing up his age, I assumed a WW2 vet.  So I maneuvered around through the crowd to see if I was right.  I thought I might say something to him.  After all, WW2 was the topic that first piqued my love of history.   Since I had several family members in the war, I always felt a certain tie to veterans who fought in that conflict. 

I made my way around to get a better look.   When I finally saw what his cap said, I froze.  I just didn't know what to say.   It said US Navy, and then gave the name of the ship on which he had served: USS Arizona.  To this day, I wish I had said something.  Again, the chance to hear from them is fading quickly.  

Now, if WW2 was the topic that was behind my love of history, Pearl Harbor caught my imagination more than anything.  I've always been a fan of 'seismic shift events' in history.  Pearl Harbor, Lexington, Hastings, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, you name it.  Even as an agnostic, I counted the birth of Jesus Christ on that list.  Things that cut a thick line between before and after have always fascinated me.  And in modern times, few events cut so stark a line between the two as the attack on Pearl Harbor.  

And in Pearl Harbor, the Arizona has always been a point of fascination for me.  I began studying what happened to it when I was in 8th grade, and saw a documentary on PBS about the attack that included a focus on that ship. That was when I saw the famous film clip taken by Dr. Haakenson that caught the explosion for posterity.

About that time, a cousin of mine (much older), had a health issue that put him in bedrest for about a month.  During that time, to kill time, he built a plastic model of the Arizona.  It looked great, and he gave it to me (though now, we believe the turrets would have had a different paint job than we believed when that model was produced).   When I saw the model, it was the first time I saw the ship not a crumpled mess on fire.  From there, I began a life long pursuit to learn what I could about that ill fated ship.  It turns out, there is now only one Arizona survivor.  And he has supported the commissioning if a new ship named the Arizona.  Apparently he is getting his wish.

Anyway, today we remember a different nation from a different time in a different world.  I did see it mentioned, albeit briefly, on the local news.  The intro to the national news mentioned nothing.  For many who are better informed, it is still a day to remember, ponder, and possibly learn from.  

In case you are interested, below is a fine animated video that gives a play-by-play, at least on the attack on the harbor itself.  I like it because he challenges the age old assumption that Pearl Harbor was, for the Japanese, a tactical triumph but a strategic disaster.  He says not so fast.  Given what the air crews could have accomplished that day, they fell woefully short.  I especially liked that nod to cultural influences behind why some of the poorer target selection may have happened.  

Anyway, apart form a few statistical flubs (which he does try to correct on the screen itself), it's a good look for those who have always heard of the attack, but don't know how it went down. 


Below is a clip someone on Facebook showed me of actual news reel coverage of the attack.  The news channels of the day, this is what the US population would have seen in theaters in the days and weeks following the attack. 


  1. (TomNew Poster)
    I still have a plastic model of the USS Pennsylvania, Arizona's sister ship, also at Pearl Harbor, but surviving to be rebuilt and serve in the war. Their twelve 14-inch guns could fire bullets weighing 1750 pounds each a distance of over 10 miles.

    1. Yeah, the Pennsylvania came out relatively unscathed, being in dock away from Battleship Row. The Cassin and Downes didn't fair as well. Though when I first saw pictures of them, I was stunned to later discover that they were not complete losses either. That's one thing the fellow in the film above keeps harping on. The pilots could have done far more damage than they did, but their poor target selection allowed the Navy, though temporarily stunned, to bounce back rather quickly.


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