Pearl Harbor

From Ohio History Central
Remember Dec. 7th!.jpg
Remember Dec. 7th! 1942 Office of War Information poster promoting a sense of common purpose during World War II.

Pearl Harbor is a United States Naval Station located in Hawaii. For most of the twentieth century, it was home to the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet. In addition, military airfields were located nearby. By the beginning of World War II, Pearl Harbor was the most important American base in the Pacific Ocean. It served as a first line of defense for the West Coast of the United States.

At the beginning of World War II, the United States was not an active participant. At the same time, Americans were preparing for the possibility of war. Because European countries were involved in a major struggle on the continent of Europe, Japan was able to expand its control of European colonies in Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese were concerned about the United States' strength and the potential for American involvement in the war. As a result, Japanese military leaders, led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, planned a preemptive attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. They hoped to significantly weaken the U.S. Pacific Fleet and prolong American entry into the war.

The Japanese attack took place on December 7, 1941. The Americans were totally surprised by the attack, suffering high casualties. By the time that the attack was over, 2,390 Americans had lost their lives. Three American battleships, the USS Arizona, the USS Utah, and the USS Oklahoma, were totally destroyed. The other American ships also saw heavy damage but were later repaired and returned to duty. The Japanese also destroyed many American aircraft located at the nearby airfields.

The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan. Roosevelt referred to the attack on Pearl Harbor as "a date that will live in infamy." Because Germany had an alliance with Japan, the United States was also able to justify going to war in Europe. The words "Remember Pearl Harbor" became a rallying cry for Americans during the war. Pearl Harbor's attack made Americans on the West Coast fear an attack of the mainland. They used those fears to rationalize placing Japanese-Americans in internment camps for the duration of the war.

Three Ohioans won Congressional Medals of Honor for their heroism during the attack on Pearl Harbor, including Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd of Cleveland, Machinist's Mate First Class Robert R. Scott of Massillon, and Seaman First Class James Richard Ward of Springfield. All three men died during the attack, sacrificing their lives for others. Numerous other Ohioans also died at Pearl Harbor.

Today, Pearl Harbor still serves as the headquarters for Navy Region Hawaii. It is still one of the most important American bases in the Pacific. The USS Arizona, still located underneath the water's surface, serves as a memorial to the many lives lost on December 7, 1941. More than one million people visit the site each year.

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