Pearl Harbor at 80
The devastating sneak attack may seem a distant, dying memory, but we must never forget, nor ever become complacent.
Eighty years ago today, John W. Finn was under fire. A chief petty officer in charge of an ordnance crew at the naval air base at Kanoehe Bay, Hawaii, Finn had been awakened by a popping noise, so he hopped into his car and headed to the air hangars a mile away to investigate. Then a fighter plane with a red meatball on it roared past him, and he knew his nation was under attack.
When he got to the hangar, most of the PBY patrol planes there were already on fire. So he grabbed a makeshift gun mount, hauled it into an area that gave him clear visibility — and gave the Japanese clear visibility to strafe him — and fired belt after belt of .30 caliber rounds at the enemy’s fighters and bombers.
Two-and-a-half hours later, when it was finally over, Finn had 21 shrapnel holes in his body, in addition to a bullet hole in his foot. For his actions on December 7, 1941, he was awarded the first Medal of Honor of any American in World War II.
Finn lived a long, rich life, passing away more than a decade ago at age 100. Indeed, today’s ceremonies at Pearl Harbor, which will be attended by 101-year-old former Navy Seaman 1st Class David Russell, who survived the bombing of the U.S.S. Oklahoma — a bombing that 429 of his fellow sailors and Marines did not survive — may well be the last major ceremony include living veterans from that infamous day.
Today, just a single World War II Medal of Honor recipient — 98-year-old Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps corporal who grabbed a flamethrower on Iwo Jima and braved withering machine gun fire to systematically destroy a series of deadly Japanese pill boxes — is still with us.
As we note on our Patriot Post reference page, the events of 80 years ago were nothing short of devastating: On December 7, 1941, more than 350 Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing 2,390 American servicemen and civilians and wounding 1,282. The attack sank or damaged eight battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and one minelayer, and destroyed 188 aircraft.
“Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us,” said President Franklin Roosevelt as he addressed the American people in the wake of the attack. “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. … With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounded determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”
It’s safe to say that the sustained sense of purpose that we, the American people, felt during World War II hasn’t been replicated since. Today, we’re troubled to report that a recent survey by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation found that the number of Americans who said they have a lot of confidence and trust in the military has dropped from 70% to 45% in just the past three years — including a stunning 11-point drop since February of this year. We know well the causes of this collapse, and, for the sake of our nation, we must correct them.
Pearl Harbor may seem a distant, dying memory, but history tells us that we must never forget, nor ever become complacent. It is with honor and respect for those who died or suffered terrible injuries on that long-ago Sunday morning that we should never again fall into the slumber that led to the attack of December 7, or the attack of September 11. Doing otherwise will only invite the next attack — by an enemy yet named, against a target yet known, on a date yet certain.
- World War II
- Pearl Harbor
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