At Dawn They Slept – December 7th

“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…. 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 unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

With these words 75 years ago the United States declared war with Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the US and thus began the conflagration know as World War II. The war lasted four years, ending in Europe on May 7th 1945 and in Japan on September 2nd. The estimated loss of life during this war varies between 50 and 70 million people.

I asked my mom what she remembered of that day:

My mother was 11. In 1941 my mother’s parents purchased a fixer upper high on a hill in San Francisco. They were all at home because Sunday (even then the shipyards worked six days a week) was the only day my grandfather had friends and relatives who could help him with the house. On that day, they were pouring cement walkways from the backyard down to the basement. The men were out working and my mother and friends were in the kitchen when my grandmother heard the news on the radio. As soon as she heard she went to where the men were working and announced to them that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. At least that was the first report. The men paused in what they were doing and voiced their concern as to how they would be affected by the U.S. entering into the war. My grandfather was 39. The other men were around the same age, but considered they might be drafted into the service even though they were a bit too old. My grandfather was working at Mare Island out of Vallejo at the shipyards — a war-effort job — which usually deferred those men from being drafted. Even though war wouldn’t be declared until the following day, everyone was certain that with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. had no choice but to enter the war. My mom remembers being worried about the war even just hearing about the war in Europe and sensed the concern of the adults. And on the next day, even before FDR declared war, young men from every walk of life were lined up four across and around the block to sign up for the military (the old guys needn’t have worried).

Unprepared to enter the war, it was amazing how everyone in the country became united (a few dissenters, of course) and sacrificed anything and everything for the war effort. Factories immediately retooled to manufacture for the war. It was truly a united America for the next 4 years. Rationing took place very soon and everyone was issued a ration book: meat, canned good, shoes, gasoline. Just about everything was either rationed, difficult to get or impossible to get.

My dad was 14 living in Berkeley. Somewhere around the age of 12 or 14 he joined the Sea Scouts and fell in love with sailing and the water. Around 15, maybe younger because he did lie about his age, he joined a “Bay Waters Only” section of the Merchant Marines. As he grew more and more interested in being a part of the war, he brought home papers for his parents to sign telling them his participation would be for Bay Waters only. Without reading it through, they signed. It was full parental release for him to become a Merchant Seaman and off he went. They sent him to Cooks and Bakers school in Santa Catalina (which was taken over for Merchant Marines and Naval training). (My parents found his graduating photo when they were there in the 80s.) He was then assigned to a sea-going tugboat where he cooked for about 18 to 20 fellow seaman. While not a fighting ship, it did have guns and each seaman had a station if duty called. Their main job throughout the war was to tow portable dry docks from one Pacific island to another, where ever there was a need for ship repair. My mom has often said that while his roll was not one of banner waving and glory, it was an important cog in the wheels of war. Without the ability to repair the naval ships in the war theater, the Navy would have been hard pressed to get a wounded ship “home” for repairs on the Pacific coast of America.

He was in the Merchant Marines ages 15, 16 and 17. It was during a brief leave back for some R and R that he turned 18. He had not re-registered for the Merchant Marines, and while home received his Greetings letter from Uncle Sam commanding him to report to his draft board, which he did. Usually when one is drafted, they go into the Army, but because of his training as a cook and baker, the sent him over to the Navy. They also examined his eyes and found him to be 4F because of his poor eyesight (A 4F rating by the American Selective Service System meant you were physically unfit for service). However, still wanting to use his skills, they assigned him to a WAVES unit (women’s’ Navy at that time) located at Seattle, WA., where he cooked (with other sailors) for that branch of the military. I believe he entered the Navy in June of ’45 and the war ended in August of ’45. Not sure when he was discharged, probably somewhere in 46 or 47. As a sailor, he never set foot on a Navy vessel much to his disappointment.

At 0753 hours the first wave consisting of 40 Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bombers, 51 Aichi D3A1 “Val” dive bombers, 50 high Altitude bombers and 43 Zeros struck airfields and Pearl Harbor Within the next hour, the second wave arrived and continued the Attack.

When it was over, the U.S.losses were:

USA : 218 KIA, 364 WIA.
USN: 2,008 KIA, 710 WIA.
USMC: 109 KIA, 69 WIA.
Civilians: 68 KIA, 35 WIA.
TOTAL: 2,403 KIA, 1,178 WIA.

USS Arizona (BB-39) – total loss when a bomb hit her magazine.
USS Oklahoma (BB-37) – Total loss when she capsized and sunk in The harbor.
USS California (BB-44) – Sunk at her berth. Later raised and Repaired.
USS West Virginia (BB-48) – Sunk at her berth. Later raised and Repaired.
USS Nevada – (BB-36) Beached to prevent sinking. Later repaired.
USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) – Light damage.
USS Maryland (BB-46) – Light damage.
USS Tennessee (BB-43) Light damage.
USS Utah (AG-16) – (former battleship used as a target) – Sunk.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) – Light Damage..
USS San Francisco (CA-38) – Light Damage.
USS Detroit (CL-8) – Light Damage.
USS Raleigh (CL-7) – Heavily damaged but repaired.
USS Helena (CL-50) – Light Damage.
USS Honolulu (CL-48) – Light Damage..

USS Downes (DD-375) – Destroyed. Parts salvaged.
USS Cassin – (DD-372) Destroyed. Parts salvaged.
USS Shaw (DD-373) – Very heavy damage.
USS Helm (DD-388) – Light Damage.

USS Ogala (CM-4) – Sunk but later raised and repaired.

Seaplane Tender
USS Curtiss (AV-4) – Severely damaged but later repaired.

Repair Ship
USS Vestal (AR-4) – Severely damaged but later repaired.

Harbor Tug
USS Sotoyomo (YT-9) – Sunk but later raised and repaired.

188 Aircraft destroyed (92 USN and 92 U.S. Army Air Corps.)

Pearl 1

Pearl 2

Pearl 4

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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