Although not a federal holiday, Dec. 7 commemorates the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Flags should be displayed at homes and those at the White House and on other government buildings will be flown at half-mast to honor those who died in the attack 76 years ago.
On Dec. 7, 1941 — at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time — a Japanese dive bomber, bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings, appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against our country’s Pacific fleet rendering useless five of eight battleships, three destroyers and seven other ships that sank. The attack irrevocably drew the United States into World War II.
The attack came on a Sunday morning when many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. The base was also expecting a flight of B-17’s from the United States, so at 7:02 a.m. when two radar operators spotted a large group of aircraft heading toward them, they were told to sound no alarm. The raid, then, came as a devastating surprise, killing 2,400 Americans and wounding 1,200.
The day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “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.” Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. In the four long years of war and Allied effort that followed, more than 400,000 American lives were lost.
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The planes used by the Japanese during that surprise attack were known as “Zeroes,” named not for the prominent Rising Sun emblem painted on their side but for the manufacturer’s type designation: Mitsubishi 6M2 Type O Model 21.
The Zero had a reputation of being fast and powerful, an nearly invincible fighter plane. In 1942 a 19-year-old Japanese pilot, Tadayoshi Koga, took a crippling hit from ground fire that caused him to crash in the Aleutian Islands. The U.S. Navy recovered his plane. Koga died in the crash. But he literally handed the Allies the keys to defeating Japan in the air, helping bring an end to World War II. The Japanese formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, over two weeks after the armistice of Aug. 14, 1945, V-J Day.
One of the remembrances that grew from this “day in infamy” is held on the third Saturday in December. It is National Wreaths Across America Day, which brings Christmas wreaths to all veterans’ graves. The wreaths, constructed of evergreens, represents everlasting life brought through Jesus. The circular shape of the wreath represents God, with no beginning and no end.
“Remember, Honor, Teach” is the motto and mission of Wreaths Across America. The event includes Arlington National Cemetery and other veteran cemeteries across the country. The mission strives to remember our fallen heroes, honor’ those who served, and teach’ our youth about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedom.
This event got started in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, had more wreaths than his business could use during the holiday season. So, as a gesture of good will and remembering a visit to Arlington Cemetery as a youngster, he wanted to homage to these veterans who had sacrificed for others. He donated the wreaths to be placed in an older section of the cemetery at Arlington.
As of 2007, Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit group founded, is held in all 50 states. A Wreaths Across America event will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 16 at the National Cemetery on Boundary Street in Beaufort.
By purchasing an evergreen wreath decorated with a large red bow, you can take part in this event and remember veterans and honor them this holiday season.
Contributor Jean Tanner is a lifetime rural resident of the Bluffton area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.