December 7 1942 – The first of many rememberences and concerrn for accountability

Aerial view of USS Arizona Memorial, World War II Valor In The Pacific National Monument in Pearl Harbor Honolulu Hawaii

On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, many reflections take place in towns across the United States. I was reading yesterday that one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors turns 101 years old this year. It will also be the first year he is not able to travel to Honolulu since his doctor advised him against the long plane ride and waiting in airports. In most other places, there just aren’t that many people from that era left to honor.

As humans, we have the capacity to forget tragedy and sometimes even pain. I’ve never had a baby but recently had a conversation with some mothers who said they have blanked out the pain they felt in childbirth. I’m not sure how much I believe that but again, never having given birth, I will take their word for it. I vaguely remember the pain from my heart attack although at the time it was pretty remarkable.

But the pain of losing a loved one is one of those pains that stays with you forever. Based on the number of war memorials around the world that seems to be a universal shared emotion. No matter what country I have traveled to, there is evidence of shrines that commemorate loved ones.

But of all the ones I have been to, none leaves a greater impression than the stark white monument over the USS Arizona. I remember seeing it for the first time as a young sailor when I was sent to Pearl Harbor to wait for my first submarine, the USS George Washington. It is a sight that you never forget. I visited it many times over the three tours I did there. The feeling of reverence and sadness never goes away. In fact, I think as I got older, it grew deeper. You are reminded that the remains of many hundreds of men are still forever encased in her hull which lies below. They were all brothers in the global sense of the word. Just there to do their duty to a country that needed them.

After the smoke cleared, calls for understanding and punishment were loud and clear. How could this happen to our mighty navy and our brave sons and daughters? On the one year anniversary of the attack, the navy had just released its preliminary findings on what went wrong and the extent of the damage. But that was not the complete picture. It didn’t tell the whole story. In fact many historians feel that the complete story will forever be shrouded in an effort to shield the real truth. I have studied the lead up to this day for many decades and still have questions. I can see the events more clearly from an exhaustive study of the years between 1921 and 1941. But it still amazes me that with all of the accumulated knowledge of properly trained strategists and tacticians that this even could happen the way it did.

In 1942, the grief had turned to vengeance against the enemy and a strong sense of betrayal by the leadership that was supposed to protect our homeland and the men who were serving on those ships. Mothers and fathers had struggled through their first thanksgiving with an empty chair and in many cases the returned sailor, soldier or marine who would send the rest of their lives dealing with the injuries and scars. I believe people wanted to support the war effort in general but really wanted answers. There had to be some kind of justice for their loss.

So it was on the first anniversary that many around the nation, including congress were angry with the navy for concealing so much. There was a sense that punishment should be swift. Not just for vengeance but for the hope that we would never have to go through this again. Someone had to pay a price.

On the first anniversary of the attack, the Detroit Times was one of many papers that carried stories about the government being aggressive about getting that retribution.

Dingell Wants Trials Now for Kimmel, Short


Special to the Detroit Times

Washington, December 7 – Full speed ahead against Japan and the immediate court-martial of the negligent Hawaiian commanders were demanded congressional comment on the Navy’s delayed report of the whole story of Pearl Harbor.

As the nation bowed its head in memory of the Pearl Harbor dead and vowed vengeance against the treacherous Nipponese, Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan called for a current court-martial of Admiral Husband Kimmel, commander of the fleet in the harbor, and General Walter C. Short, commander of the Hawaiian Department of the Army.


Declaring the report was a “public confession” of negligence and lack of alertness and substantiating his charges of one year ago. Dingell asserted the facts should make an immediate court martial “mandatory”

“There is no reason now why we should wait until after the war to find out just who was responsible for this greatest debacle in our history” he said.

“I am not a nemesis, but we owe such an Investigation to the thousands of American boys who died because of the inefficiency of their superiors.

“The report shows the army and the navy were both asleep in the same bed.


“The flying force in Hawaii didn’t have a plane in the air. The navy was accustomed to tie up its battlewagons to a hitching post on Saturday noon and didn’t unhitch them until Monday morning. And the army would celebrate the week-end along with them

“The report also shows the wrecking of our forces at Pearl Harbor was so complete that if the Japs had had the sense to follow it up, they could have taken Hawaii and perhaps won the war.”

(Admiral Kimmel and General Short were removed from their commands, following an investigation by a board headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts. They were ordered tried by court-martial, but nothing has happened to date it being ordered that the trials be deferred until after the war.


Senator C Wayland Brooks of Illinois asserted that “this is a sad anniversary, both because the serious defeat, and because of the full revelation of the stupidity of our leadership at that time

“The full story of the Pearl Harbor disaster should make us ail realize that our first and biggest war obligation is the complete defeat —the utter annihilation—of Japan,” Brocks said, adding:

“It is unfortunate that the details of the greatest naval loss in our history were concealed so long from the American people. AII of our people are in the war, and we must make sure in the future that inefficiency or negligence in our military and naval command is neither concealed nor minimized, under the guise of war secrecy.

“The people will pay the full price of this war in blood, suffering and sacrifice and they are entitled to the truth about our leadership. A year of concealment is too long.”

Senator Hurry S. Truman of Missouri, Democratic chairman of the special Senate committee investigating the national defense, said “This report reemphasizes the Importance of the Pacific war. We must make the Japanese pay for their treacherous, tragic, blow at Pearl Harbor, and we must make them pay as quickly as possible. The report shows how sound asleep we were.”


Senator Guy M. Gillette, Iowa Democrat, member of the Senate naval affairs committee, said: “I had hoped the lull story of Pearl Harbor would have been told by the navy before this, but in their judgment they thought otherwise. I have always felt the American people can always stand the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be, but we have eternally before us the difficulty of telling the whole military truth so as not to convey advantageous Information to the enemy.

“Now that the people know the entire story, we run be confident that the losses we sustained at Pearl Harbor have been gallantly retrieved.” Rep. Albert J. Engel of Michigan said: “The Incredible laxity of our leadership is given new emphasis in this report. On Nov. 28, 1941, more than a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Halsey was ordered to sail with a task force to deliver planes to Wake Island.


“He sailed on a war basis, with orders to shoot on sight any Japanese ships, planes or submarines which he might encounter, since it was important not to let the Japs know we were reinforcing Wake.

“In view of that fact, it is un-believable that our navy was caught flatfooted at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Halsey’s orders contemplated the possibility that Japanese forces might he present in those water.

“And if he had met and sunk Jap ships —a distinct possibility under his orders—a blow against Pearl Harbor by any Jap forces which could have reached it would have been the inevitable result.

“Under these circumstance it was unimaginably stupid not to have had our guard up at Pearl Harbor.”

Representative Engel praised ‘the work of the navy in salvaging the damaged ships.

“It was the greatest repair job in history, performed under very trying circumstances. The dry-docks at Pearl Harbor were destroyed and ships had to he brought to the mainland for major repair.

Kimmel and Short

In February of 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel became the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Fleet had been moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940. Admiral Kimmel, shortly after being placed in this command expressed his concern about a surprise attack. He did not, however, make any apparent changes to prepare for such an attack.

His army counterpart, General Walter Short also arrive in Hawaii in February 1941. Defense of Oahu was the responsibility of the Army.

Warnings of an Attack

Admiral Kimmel and General Short were given numerous warnings about the potential of an attack.  In late November, Admiral Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, warned Kimmel of a surprise attack in the Pacific. No Action was taken.

One day later, General Marshall sent the below warning to the commanders by telegram to expect enemy action ‘at any moment’ and advised them to carry out ‘such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary’. Again no action was taken.

Negotiations with Japan appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to hostile Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Should hostilities occur you will carry out the tasks assigned in Rainbow Five [the Army’s basic war plan] so far as they pertain to Japan. Limit dissemination of this highly secret information to minimum essential officers.

Around the same time Kimmel received another warning, this time even more specific from the Navy Department. It was ‘‘to be considered as a war warning’ and to expect ‘an aggressive move by Japan’ in a few days. Short received a similar message from the War Department.  Again, neither man took any actions.

On December 3, 1941, Admiral Kimmel was informed that the Japanese embassies around the world were destroying their codes and ciphers and burning their secret documents. It was clear that there would be an immediate outbreak of war. However, Kimmel read the warning and filed it away, again without any action.

Asked later why he did not heed the warnings, Kimmel said that the fact that the War and Navy Departments had authorized sending 50 percent of Hawaii’s P-40s to Wake and Midway indicated to him authorities in Washington “did not consider hostile action on Pearl Harbor imminent or probable.”

On December 7th, Admiral Kimmel and General Short had a golf game scheduled. Kimmel had arisen at about 7am and immediately was advised that the USS ward had fired on an unidentified submarine a mile south of the mouth of Pearl Harbor.  The observation planes flying above aslo reported that they saw the oil slick from the submarine.  Kimmel was frustrated that he was not advised sooner. He canceled his golf game with General Short and decided to make his way to the command center.

From his office, the first message was sent out at 7:58, after the air attack had begun, “AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NO DRILL”. At 8:05 Kimmel was in his office and a stray bullet smashed through his window and hit him on the chest. He is quoted as telling the officer next to him, “It would have been more merciful had it killed me.”


After the Attack

The Pearl Harbor Attack was devastating. Following the attack, Both Kimmel and Short admitted that they had not expected an air attack and the Japanese caught them unprepared and unawares.

On December 17th, Kimmel and Short were relieved of Duty. Admiral Kimmel was relieved by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The ordeal was humiliating and both Kimmel and Short were pressured into early retirement. Both endured numerous investigations and enquiries over the “naval debacle”.

Kimmel’s supporters believe that he was a scapegoat for the truly negligent party—the United States government. Kimmel believed that he acted in the most appropriate manner he could with the limited information he had. To him, an attack on Wake or Midway Island seemed more likely.

Through many decades of requests, Kimmel’s family—who supported his actions—sought to reinstate the former Admiral’s four-star status. Finally in 2000, the US Senate voted to exonerate him for his allegedly neglectful actions at Pearl Harbor.

As we continue to reflect the Day of Infamy, it is a lesson for all of us to never forget. Not out of any kind of vengeance for a long lost Imperial Japanese Navy that was ultimately crushed and defeated. Every one of the major attacking ships lie at the bottom of the ocean. But the real reason for remembering Pearl Harbor is that we should never again allow ourselves to be deluded that we are that powerful or that incapable of being attacked again. There are forces around the world that would take great delight in defeating the Great Satan. There are others who would see us humbled in the process. Jealousy of our freedoms and economic achievements are strong drivers for them. In the end, alliances will falter and fail. We must ever remain vigilant in we wish to maintain our freedom. That is the real reason why we must never forget Pearl Harbor.

Mister Mac


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