It was a balmy Sunday morning in December on the island paradise of Hawaii, with blue skies, scattered clouds over the mountains, a slight breeze and temperatures, just after sunrise, nudging 75. Civilians and our serving military men and women, on this day of rest, were preparing for church services. Many were still in their bunks enjoying the bliss of this atoll on God’s day.
Seventy-seven years ago, this very day, at 7:48 a.m., suddenly, without warning, directly out of the sun from an easterly direction, as if they were coming from America, materialized the searing silhouettes of many Japanese military aircraft. They were dispatched from six aircraft carriers carefully scattered safely beyond the horizon — 408 aircraft, in two waves, attacked the vast Navy port and air stations.
The Japanese carriers had sailed 4,000 miles to execute their mission of carnage. The massive strike force was premeditated to kill Americans, destroy and sink the nation’s Pacific fleet and extinguish our will to fight. The Japanese did not attack this day just because the weather was good. It was our Sabbath.
The assault on Pearl Harbor brought unintended consequences to both sides. The attack was the vat of explosives that reshaped the world. Isolationist America became an internationalist country on the morning of Dec. 8, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke before Congress and so resolutely declared war in the iconic 10-minute speech that branded Dec. 7, 1941, as “a date that will live in infamy.”
The Japanese government hoped that America would accept defeat after their stealthy battering, and they could build a fortress of imperial ambitions across the Pacific Rim. Japan’s burning aggression for empire building was born out of frustration, as they chased power and control in the west. The U.S. and Japan had been in an economic war for decades. They wanted control of Chinese shipping ports, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaya for natural resources of raw material, including oil and rubber.
When the war finally ended, the “Mighty Mo,” Battleship USS Missouri, flagship of the third fleet, was anchored in Tokyo Harbor. On Sept. 2, 1945, at precisely 9 a.m., the 23-minute ceremony on the Tectona grandis (teak) wood plank deck of the 58,000-ton warship was somber and solemn.
William R. Matthews, owner, editor and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star was one of the few correspondents aboard the battleship witnessing and documenting the Japanese surrender. He wrote in the Star, “V — J Day had come at last, and I was one of the seven lucky publishers who had a ringside seat at the ceremony in Tokyo Bay.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered that the uniform of the day would be khakis, or daily service clothes, open shirts, no ties. A Navy band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as clouds screened the sun. Eight U.S. seamen; all well over 6 feet tall, lined the gangway atop the ship, as the 11 Empire of Japan envoys passed between them. The sailors dressed in their summer whites were explicitly picked to show the Allied superiority and intimidate the delegation. Not one primary Allied military officer saluted the Japanese.
The Allied documents were bound in leather on old parchment, the unconditional Japanese Instrument of Surrender in canvas. As the Japanese imperial government representatives were mutely escorted off the ship, the sun burst through the clouds.
Four hundred and fifty Navy carrier planes from the 3rd fleet, followed by waves of Army Air Force B-29 bombers flew low in formation over the bay — more U.S. aircraft than the entire Japanese planes that attacked Pearl Harbor four years and nine months earlier.