81 years since Pearl Harbor

December 5, 2022
Aerial view of Pearl Harbor, with white memorial in the water and tree-lined shoreline


81 years ago today: On a bright, sunny Sunday morning in 1941, the Hawaiian air became black with smoke.
7:55 a.m.
Japanese attack Pearl Harbor

Honor The Fallen

One of the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil in modern history

  • 2,403 Americans killed during (or resulting from) the attack by Japan on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

  • 1,177 killed on the USS Arizona alone; 900+ bodies remain entombed underwater in the ship.

  • Civilians also died that day, including children. The youngest victim: 3 months old.

“I don’t know what hell is like, but I guess that morning would be as close as you can get … the whole harbor was afire."

101-year-old Ken Potts – one of two remaining survivors of the USS Arizona, a U.S. Navy ship devastated that day. Potts returned to the ship mid-attack, attempting to defend it until a catastrophic explosion occurred; he spent the rest of the day rescuing sailors and then was tasked to recover the bodies of his fellow shipmates. When interviewed 80 years later, Potts became emotional talking about the day he lost his best friend and "family" on the USS Arizona.

“I saw a formation of black planes diving straight into the ocean off Pearl Harbor. The blue sky was punctured with anti-aircraft smoke puffs … I saw a rooftop fly into the air like a pasteboard movie set.”

Elizabeth McIntosh, a journalist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, wrote an article specifically to tell women about the horrors of the Pearl Harbor attack; her editors refused to publish it because of its graphic nature. The Washington Post printed it 71 years later (read it in full on our source page).

Why Pearl Harbor?

Japan wanted to cripple the U.S. Navy (but didn’t succeed). Here's why:

  • Major aircraft carriers were out at sea.
  • Shallow waters allowed for recovery of damaged ships, which would once again sail in WWII and beyond.
  • Japanese bombs missed strategic targets, such as fuel depots.
  • Nevertheless, the attack remains one of the deadliest days in U.S. military history.

The immediate aftermath was swift; the following day, President Franklin Roosevelt referred to December 7, 1941 as "a date which will live in infamy" as the U.S. officially entered World War II. Japan had planned the attack while seemingly engaged in diplomatic talks with the U.S.; instead, the attack became the catalyst launching WWII's Pacific front.

Listen to the famous speech by Pres. FDR (History Matters)

For more about Ken Potts: AARP Interview and Veterans Affairs

Honolulu after Pearl Harbor: A report published for the first time, 71 years later (The Washington Post)

An interview with Lou Contor, the other remaining survivor of the USS Arizona (The Associated Press)

USS Arizona Survivor: Honor Those Killed at Pearl Harbor (The Associated Press)

by Jenna Lee,