From the Archives: 71st Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

President Barack Obama presents a wreath in th shrine room of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial on December 29, 2011 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. UPI/Kent Nishimura/Pool
1 of 3 | President Barack Obama presents a wreath in th shrine room of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial on December 29, 2011 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. UPI/Kent Nishimura/Pool | License Photo

December 7, 1941: "A date that will live in infamy."

Seventy-one years ago today, Japanese fighters attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing 2,400 and sending America into World War II.


The following are stories from the UPI archives from the day of the attack and the days that followed.

Hull accuses Japanese of outright lies WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 1941 (UPI) - Secretary of State Cordell Hull tonight angrily told Saburo Kurusu and Kichsaburo Nomura, Japanese negotiators, that their government's answer to his memorandum was "crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions." Hull's statement was read directly to Kurusu and Nomura after he read Japan's document handed to him at 2:20 p.m. EST. The state department thus far had not published the document. However, a departmental statement described the scene as follows: "Hull carefully read the statement presented by the Japanese ambassador and with the greatest indignation said, "I must say that in all my conversations with you during the last nine months I never uttered one work of untruth. This is borne out absolutely by the record. In all my 50 years of public service I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions - on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them."


Japanese attacks understood continuing

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 1941 (UPI) - White House Secretary Stephen Early issued a statement tonight declaring that Japanese attacks are continuing so far as the U.S. government knows. Mr. Early said that the Honolulu and Manila attacks occurred when both nations were at peace and within an hour or so of the time Nomura and Kurusu handed Secretary of State Hull the Japanese reply to Hull's memorandum. Mr. Early said the army received distress signals from an American vessel, presumably a cargo ship, 700 miles west of San Francisco. "This indicates that Japanese submarines are strung out over the entire area," Mr. Early said.

Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, heavy loss of life; U.S. fleet steams to sea By United Press The United States fleet steamed from Pearl Harbor Sunday after a Japanese dive bomber, torpedo plane and parachute raid on the great American naval and air base, causing heavy loss of life and property damage in an unprovoked assault which precipitated a general war in the Pacific. Reportedly the sound of gunfire was heard off Oahu and gun flashes were seen. The White House confirmed reports of heavy damage and casualties in Pearl Harbor and also announced that the navy reported to President Roosevelt an unidentified squadron of airplanes was sighted off Guam. The White House said it was unable to confirm reports of an attack on Manila. Reportedly Hawaiian officials have been expecting the attack for about a week and gave the raiders a warm reception. Attacking planes, several of which were reported shot down, clearly bore the insignia of the rising sun. Hickam field appeared to be the principal objective, but fires were also started on Ford island in the middle of the harbor. Reportedly 50 planes attacked later and parachute troops were sighted. However, the parachutists were believed handled. The National Broadcasting Co. said 350 were killed in a direct bomb hit on Hickam field. The battleship Oklahoma, according to NBC, was also reported attacked and set afire in Pearl Harbor. Governor Joseph Poindexter of Hawaii declared a state of emergency and the islands operated under a prearranged plan. Meanwhile, at Washington President Roosevelt conferred with the cabinet and then summoned congressional leaders. It was believed Mr. Roosevelt was preparing a message to a joint session of congress asking a declaration of war - which was expected to pass as soon as asked. The navy established censorship immediately on all outgoing cable and radio messages. Army and navy posts throughout the nation were mobilized. Secretary of War Henry l. Stimson and Secretary of Navy Frank Knox ordered army and navy men to wear uniforms at all times. Huge fires were raging at Pearl Harbor at 1:10 this afternoon and five navy vessels appeared to have been destroyed in the air raids. One ship had turned over on its side. Fires raging on four other warships appeared to be gaining in intensity and they had settled low in the water. The base itself apparently was extensively damaged in the raids and great clouds of smoke rose above it. Patrols were scouring the hills above Pearl Harbor for parachute troops reported to have been seen in the vicinity.


December 7, 1941: The destroyer Shaw's forward magazine explodes after being struck during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy)

White House announcement of Hawaii attack

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 1941 (UPI) - Text of a White House announcement detailing the attack on the Hawaiian islands is: "The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor from the air and all naval and military activities on the island of Oahu, principal American base in the Hawaiian islands."

Tojo reading Hirohito speech: Japan declares war on U.S., Britain

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 7 (UP) - Here is the official translation of the Japanese Emperor's proclamation of war as read by Premier Tojo to the empire, and picked up here by the NBC listening post:

We, by the grace of Heaven, Emperor of Japan, and seated on the throne of a line unbroken for ages eternal, enjoin upon thee, our loyal and brave subjects. We hereby declare war upon the United States of America and the British Empire. The men and officers of our army and navy shall do their utmost in prosecuting the war. Our public servants of various departments will perform faithfully and diligently their appointed tasks and all other subjects of ours shall pursue their respective duties. The entire nation with united will shall mobilize their united strength so that nothing will miscarry in the attainment of our royal aims. To insure the solidity of these ages and contribute to world peace is the far-sighted policy which was formulated by our great, illustrious, imperial grandsire and our great imperial sire's experience, and which we lay constantly to heart; to cultivate friendship among nations and to enjoy prosperity in common with all nations - has always been the guiding principle of our empire's foreign policy. It has been unavoidable and far from our wishes that our empire has been brought to cross swords with America and Britain. More than four years have passed since China, failing to comprehend the true intentions of our empire, and recklessly causing trouble, disturbed the peace of East Asia and compelled our empire to take up arms. Although there has been re-established the National government of China, with which Japan has effected neighborly intercourse and co-operation, the regime which has survived at Chungking, relying upon American and British protection still continues its opposition. Eager for the realization of their inordinate ambitions to dominate the Orient, both America and Britain, supporting the Chungking regime, have aggravated disturbances in East Asia. Moreover, these two powers, inducing other countries to follow suit, increased military preparations on all sides of our empire to challenge us. They have obstructed by every means our peaceful commerce and finally resorted to direct severance of economic relations, menacing gravely the existence of our empire. Patiently have we waited and long have we endured in the hope that our government might retrieve the situation in peace. But our adversaries, showing not the least spirit of conciliation, have unduly delayed a settlement, and in the meantime they have intensified the economic and political pressure to compel thereby our empire to submission. This turn of affairs would, if left unchecked, not only nullify our empire's efforts of many years for the sake of the stabilization of East Asia, but also endanger the very existence of our nation. The situation being such as it is our empire, for its existence and self-defense, has no other recourse but to appeal to arms and to crush every obstacle in its path. The hallowed spirits of our imperial ancestors guard us from above and we rely upon the loyalty and courage of our subjects in our confident expectation that the task bequeathed by our forefathers will be carried forward and that the source of the evil will be speedily eradicated and an enduring peace immutably established in East Asia, preserving thereby the glory of our empire." (Signed) Tojo; December 8, 1941.

Three U.S. battleships--the West Virginia, left, severely damaged; the Tennessee, damaged, and the Arizona, sunk--are hit by Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy)

FDR asks war against Japan

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 1941 (UP) -- President Roosevelt today in person asked Congress to declare that "a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire" as a result of Japan's "unprovoked and dastardly attack." Members of Congress stood, waved and cheered wildly as the President declared, "We will win," and cheered again at the close of the speech. The President made his request to a joint session of Congress, giving it a brief but detailed account of Japan's attack on American territory yesterday -- a date which he said "will live in infamy." He predicted that the American people "in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory." The President did not mention Germany and Italy -- Japan's Axis partners in Europe. The text of President Roosevelt's war message to Congress said:

To the Congress of the United States: Yesterday, Dec. 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.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor, looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack. It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces.

Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been recorded torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.


Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States of America have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications of the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces -- with the unbounding determination of our people -- we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.


I ask that Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire."


Congressional leaders had awaited the President's message to decide whether to formulate a declaration of war only against Japan, or against Germany and Italy as well.

The President apparently was awaiting further information as to what Germany and Italy will do. The President spoke to a tense, hushed joint session of both houses less that two hours after he had announced, through his secretary, 3,000 American casualties in the Japanese assault on the Island of Oahu in the Hawaiian group. Of these casualties, 1,500 were estimated to have been killed. Mr. Roosevelt delivered his fateful message to the second joint session of Congress to assemble during the 20th Century in the House chamber to hear a president demand full-fledged war against this nation's enemies. In the Senate, Chairman Tom Connally (D., Tex.) of the Foreign Relations Committee, had prepared a joint resolution for introduction, formally declaring the war which Japan has "thrust upon us." The text of the proposed Connally resolution:

Declaring that a state of war exists between the imperial Japanese government and the Government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same:

Whereas the imperial Japanese government has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America: Therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the imperial Japanese government which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the imperial Japanese government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

The president was particularly gratified this morning over the mounting reaction of the country expressed to the White House in hundreds of telegrams and telephone calls.

Secretary Stephen Early told a press conference that the tremendous volume of messages to the President "all express horror at this attack and pledge full loyalty to the President and the government."

The messages came from governors, mayors, religious leaders, heads of civic movements, newspaper editors and radio broadcasters. Many offered their personal services, including a Washington taxi cab driver named Smith, who telephoned the White House late last night saying he had just finished paying for his cab but that he offered it to the Government and offered further to drive free of charge any government official needing transportation.


Alf Landon, former governor of Kansan and Republican presidential candidate, wired the White House: "The Japanese attack leaves no choice. Nothing must be permitted to interfere with our victory over a foreign foe."

Even as the American armed forces in the mid-Pacific and the Near East defended this country with their lives and blood against the Japanese blitzkrieg, the war and navy departments were assembling data for the first casualty lists.

There already were scattered reports throughout the country that relatives of dead or missing men had received private notification of the sacrifice.

Congress, meantime, moved on her fronts to speed every facility for the successful prosecution of the war. The House Military Affairs Committee scheduled a meeting for tomorrow to repeal legislation restricting the use of selectees and National Guardsmen to the Western Hemisphere and United States possessions.

The action would remove any doubt as to the authority of the President to do away with that prohibition. There had been some belief that he would dispense with it during the actual war.

Senator Claude Pepper (D., Fla.), told reporters this morning that the 3,000 casualties reflected the "vile character" of the Japanese attacks and urged immediate declaration of war on all Axis powers.


"We don't understand how it happened and don't want to pass judgment until the details are in," he said. "It all shows however the insidious advantage for a nation advancing under a flag of truce -- then treacherously attacking.

"It shows the vile character of the whole Axis camp and leads one to conclude that we should declare war today on the whole Axis, and with God's help, obtain righteous victory."

Symbolic of the unity which had swept a determined nation overnight was the comment of Representative William G. Stratton (R. Ill.), who hitherto has opposed President Roosevelt's foreign policy.

"There can be no question as to the stand that will be taken by every true American," he said. "This treacherous attack on the United States by Japan will be met and avenged by a united and aroused people. We will not be satisfied merely with victory -- Japan must be destroyed as a military power."

Mr. Roosevelt met first with his cabinet at 8:30 p. m. last night, then he and his cabinet received Republican and Democratic congressional leaders and chairman and senior members of the committees charged with responsibility for foreign relations.

Mr. Roosevelt told them he was not sure at the moment what he would propose -- that it would depend on developments and, specifically, whether Germany and Italy find themselves committed by the tripartite Axis agreement with Japan to declare war on the United States. He was awaiting information on an unconfirmed report that some of the planes that blasted Hawaii bore German markings.


The President already had ordered our armed forces to strike back and the war was on -- declared or not.

Police shooed crowds away from the immediate vicinity of the White House. But, in Lafayette Park, just across Pennsylvania Avenue, some hundreds gathered and they sang "America" and "God Bless America" as the conferees streamed out of the mansion.

Fitting neatly into the spectacular pattern of Sunday's events was Japan's final diplomatic move here, a request for an appointment with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The hour was fixed at 1 p.m., just 25 minutes before the bombers zoomed low over Pearl Harbor. Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura and Special Envoy Saburo Kurusu actually reached the department more than an hour later and some 40 minutes after the bombs fell on Hawaii.

The State Department immediately made public the American statement of basic principles, the Japanese reply and Mr. Roosevelt's Saturday peace proposal directed to Emperor Hirohito. There was speculation here whether the President's message ever reached the Emperor at all.

Except among the White House conferees who considered the legislative technicalities, practically every other utterance and development in this capital last night and during the early hours of today recognized that a war is on -- that we are in it, with great loss of life and tremendous damage to our naval and air forces already inflicted.


Attorney General Francis Biddle came out of the White House remarking that whether we declared war now or did not was merely "an academic question."

Those conferees were solemn men as they emerged into the night. White House police guards surrounded the mansion. It was no pocket pistol guard either, but big brawny blue coats who had rifles and Thompson sub-machine guns in the crooks of their arms.

Street lights dimmed at 12:48 a. m. today in a semi blackout and the District of Columbia officials called on all citizens to use a minimum of night lights.

In such an environment there could be few light hearts. But the cabinet members and congressional leaders were not spiritless. They told of a President who looked fresh and confident and full of certainty that there could be no other outcome but an American victory in the Pacific. But they said, too, that this would be no two-week engagement nor mere trials heat test of our men and guns.

A photograph taken from a Japanese aircraft during the torpedo attack on ships on both sides of the Ford Island. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

U.S. has begun counterattack By RICHARD HOTTELET, United Press Staff Correspondent WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 1941 (UPI) - The United States pressed huge scale naval and aerial operations against Japan in the Battle of the Pacific today, Washington sources reported. The United States' counter offensive began at the moment the first Japanese bomb exploded in Hawaii, according to naval officials. Immediate objectives of the Pacific and Asiatic fleets was to hunt down marauding Japanese naval units in the Pacific and blockade Japan, cutting off, if possible, all approaches to Japan from the sea. The fleets' planes plus the army's land-based bombers from the Philippines also were expected to press home aerial attacks if feasible against Japanese naval bases. No details regarding the United States' action were divulged and only the general statement that the United States navy is striking with all the forces at its command. Movements of the Pacific fleet which departed from Pearl Harbor after the Japanese bombing were secret. The Asiatic fleet was believed to have been at sea when war began, assumedly in the area south of the Philippines. It was believed probably that the Asiatic fleet will cooperate with British naval units and utilize the British base at Singapore. The United States Atlantic fleet is ready for any Atlantic hostilities should Germany enter the war on Japan's side. Reports that Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk off Honolulu were not confirmed. (A strict naval censorship was clamped on Honolulu and no news was allowed sent out after the first brief flashes regarding the raid cleared.) Japanese planes engaging in the Hawaiian bombing were believed operating from South Pacific Islands as well as from aircraft carriers. Guam, which only last year received congressional approval for fortification, also was heavily attacked. Japanese submarines apparently were operating as close as 700 miles to the United States' Pacific coast - the distance from which a U.S. cargo vessel sent distress signals. A U.S. army transport was reported torpedoed 1,300 miles west of San Francisco. Scattered Philippine points were bombed. A report reaching the White House stating that Manila was bombed later was believed to be untrue. Undoubtedly the major attack occurred at Pearl Harbor. Naval officials were awaiting reports regarding the action the British and Russians would take in the Far East. A Netherlands East Indies declaration of war against Japan assured the United States navy of additional bases in the South Pacific as well as the reportedly strong Dutch naval forces, including submarines and planes. A British declaration of war against Japan presumably automatically would open the world's largest naval base at Singapore to the United States fleet. It was estimated that the Russians have upwards of 100 submarines based at Vladivostok. The U.S. Pacific fleet alone was believed at the outset to be at least equal to Japan's maximum strength, while the arrival of strong British units at Singapore in recent days would give the Allies definite superiority. The United States navy's purpose would be to blockade Japan which will be attempted immediately. However, it will not be a blockade in the old technical sense, according to naval experts. For instance, there will be no stationing of ships off Japanese ports. Instead, it probably will be a remote blockade conducted along the great arc from the Aleutian Islands to Hawaii, thence to the "Philippie anchor." The Allied strategy, according to experts, will be to hold the blockade at all costs and bomb Japanese bases to force the Japanese fleet into home waters.


Sailors stand among wrecked airplanes at Ford Island Naval Air Station as they watch the explosion of the battleship Shaw in the background. {U.S. Navy)

Japan hits British and U.S. defenses By RICHARD D. WILSON MANILA, Dec. 9, 1941 (UP) - Japan has hurled attacks against all parts of the Orient in a Nipponese blitz which crashed against British and American defenses principally. At the same time Japan claims to have wrung an armistice from Thailand. Military objectives in the Manila area underwent stiff bombing attacks and the Japanese claimed spectacular air battle victories. From Singapore, British jungle fighters reportedly were locked in a struggle of annihilation against Japanese invaders who landed in the Malaya-Thailand border region and opened a southward push toward Singapore. Japanese bombs killed 60 and wounded 138 persons in Singapore in raids which reportedly were beaten off with light casualties and damage. The British said confused and difficult fighting was raging around the Kohta-Bahru airdrome only 10 miles from the northern terminus of the Singapore railway in northern Malaya. The Royal air force bombed, strafed and torpedo attacked Japanese transports, hitting and setting fire to at least two, it was said. The British believed that Japanese to be "in possession of southern Thailand" and the Thailand radio was reported to have broadcast that the cabinet decided to permit the Japanese to enter Thailand. Tokyo officially announced that an agreement has been reached for passage of Japanese troops across Thailand at two points. Elsewhere the British radio reported Hongkong bombed for the third consecutive day. The official Netherlands news agency said a large part of the Dutch merchant marine temporarily has been requisitioned but other transport services remain normal. Netherlands Indies newspapers staunchly supported the Netherlands government's declaration in London of war against Japan and expressed complete confidence of victory. The Rome radio reported that a total blackout was ordered in Tokyo and other Japanese cities were partly blacked out. However, the position of the oriental theater of the war so far was not completely clear - it has been announced in Washington that 3,000 casualties occurred in Hawaii alone and also that at least one big battleship capsized in Pearl Harbor and that American airplanes, small craft, passenger liners, transports, fuel and war supplies have been damaged, destroyed or sunk. Antiaircraft batteries have been active in major Pacific outposts. What happened to the smaller isolated positions such as Guam, Wake and Midway islands and the Aleutians is not known.


Admiral Kimmel: "Never have we been so proud" HONOLULU, Dec. 11, 1941 (UP) - Admiral Husband R. Kimmel, commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and Rear Admiral Claude Bloch, commander of the Honolulu Naval District, had the following to say in a joint statement praising the response to the call of duty by civilians, the army, navy and Marine Corps during last Sunday's attack by Japanese war planes: "It is truly great to be an American. "Never have we been so proud as when we saw Sunday's magnificent response to the call of duty by civilian employes of the Government and contractor firms - whom we call our un-uniformed fighters - and the officers and men of the army, navy and Marine Corps. "Instances of valor are so great in number they are too many to enumerate. The same sort of selfless courage was displayed then that will win this war. "We Americans can receive hard blows, but we can deliver harder ones. "In these days when we face the task that lies ahead, with calm determination and unflinching resolve, it is truly great to be an American. Victory for us is assured."

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