It’s been 76 years to the date since the Empire of Japan took the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, and the men and women stationed there, by surprise. In the ensuing attack, more than 2,300 American lives, 180 aircraft and one U.S. battleship were lost to Japanese bombers, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presciently said that Dec. 7, 1941 was a date that would “live in infamy.” Whether you lived through the events of that day, learned about them in school or need to brush up on your history, here’s a recap of why today matters.
Why it happened, why it matters
Relations between the United States and Japan had soured in the years leading up to the attack. In response to Japan’s alliance with the Axis powers, and its invasion of Chinese and French Indochinese territories, the United States halted nearly all of its commercial interaction with the state, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
As tensions grew and war loomed ever nearer, it was the Empire of Japan that would strike first. According to the History Channel, the Imperial Japanese military sought to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet with a preemptive strike so they could further expand throughout the South Pacific unhindered.
Victor Kosko, of Sykesville, recalled the attack in a previous interview with the Courier-Express. Then an Aviation Metalsmith, First Class in the Navy, Kosko said he woke up to the sounds of bombs going off.
“I feel sorry for the guys that lost their lives there,” he said. “Some of them never knew a war even started. They died in their sleep.”
While the United States incurred mortal and material losses that day, it’s Pacific Fleet was not crippled. All but two battleships that were damaged in the attack, according to the History Channel, were salvaged and repaired, and all of the fleet’s aircraft carriers weren’t at the base at the time.
But the attack greatly affected the United States. It was ultimately what drew the United States into World War II.
By the numbers: Pa. in WWII
More than 400,000 American military members and civilians died in World War II. Pennsylvania alone would incur over 35,000 casualties.
According to National Archives records of U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Force casualties from the war, 263 casualties came from Clearfield County alone. Of those, 152 were killed in action.
Army and Air Force casualties in Elk County tally 103, 65 of which were recorded as killed in action. In Jefferson County, 157 casualties were recorded, 101 of which were killed in action.
Pennsylvania also incurred 10,200 Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard casualties in the war, according to National Archive records, 4,102 of which perished in combat. County specific figures were not available in the archives.
As the years progress, the number of the veterans that returned from the war dwindle.
Richard Coccimiglio, finance officer and board member of the DuBois American Legion, said that it’s important their stories continue to be told so as to preserve them after they’ve gone. And for a lot of them, he said, those stories begin in some way with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Roughly a third of the Legion’s 600 members, he said, are veterans of World War II.
“I look at this way – that we can’t lose the history of our nation,” he said. “And these are the guys that moved our nation forward – socially, economically and industriously. What they did after World War II just moved our nation a whole century ahead of where we were.”