10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was low-key

The Sept. 11 observances that were the focus of much of the nation last weekend were in marked contrast to the somewhat understated 10th anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Perhaps what presaged this change was TV's ascendancy and power, which turned that medium into the national altar of mourning in times of strife and disaster 22 years later when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.


After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. entered World War II, which by its end in 1945 had taken more than 60 million lives worldwide.

On the first anniversary of the attack, Baltimore commemorated the event with ceremonies held in Sun Square.


"Today, Pearl Harbor Day, the entire city will join in memorializing that raid by an Army exhibition in Sun Square from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; by emphasizing the current Victory Fund campaign; by prayer, silence and devotions at 1:10 p.m; by the raising of service flags; by ceremonies in some war industries; by special classes in public schools," reported The Sun.

Church bells throughout the city tolled at 1:10 p.m., the exact hour of the attack, at 7:55 a.m., Pacific time, in Hawaii. As the bells fell silent. there was a minute of silence and prayer.

A special dinner that evening was given at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in honor of Lord Halifax, British ambassador to the United States.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed a resolution in early December 1943 that would have made Pearl Harbor Day "Armed Services Honor Day."

"I consider the commemoration of the day fixed in the measure to be singularly inappropriate," he wrote, adding that it seemed premature to set aside a day to honor those serving in the conflict. "The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor two years ago is a day that is remembered in this country as one of infamy on the part of a treacherous enemy" and as such "requires no reminder," he said.

Eighteen days before the 10th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Emperor Hirohito signed the Japanese peace treaty and the United States-Japan security pact, which brought an end to the Allied occupation of Japan.

The actual commemoration of the Pearl Harbor attack was rather low-key in comparison to the commemoration last weekend that recalled the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the loss of Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

President Harry S. Truman did not attend the observances in Pearl Harbor. He was vacationing in Key West, Fla., where he was working on the budget to present to Congress in January.

He did pause to listen to an eyewitness account by Navy Cmdr. Horace D. Warden, the president's physician, who had been at Pearl Harbor during the attack.

Vice President Alben W. Barkley was on hand in Honolulu for the official ceremony, speaking in the "Hill of Sacrifice," which became the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The ceremony was the "largest here of any anniversary of Pearl Harbor," reported The Sun.

Earlier that morning, as the sun rose over Pearl Harbor, a small group of naval officers gathered on the "warped roof of the midship deckhouse of the sunken hulk of the former battleship Arizona," reported The Sun, to remember the more than 1,000 sailors and officers entombed below.

There, at 7:55 a.m., a flag was raised on the ship that rested on old Battleship Row, while prayers were offered for the Pearl Harbor dead.


Rear Adm. Tom B. Hill said, "Here we must make a pledge to them and ourselves that there will never be another such day in the country's history. We must be constantly prepared and ever watchful."

In Washington, the Amvets held a brief ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where Lt. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, the hero of Bastogne, and Mrs. Charles Sullivan, auxiliary vice president of the Amvets, placed wreaths on the monument to 253 victims of the 1945 sinking of the USS Serpens.

"The monument marks the only mass burial site of World War II in the cemetery," reported The Sun.

Anniversary articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other newspapers recalled the events of Dec. 7, 1941, and analyzed what went so terribly wrong that day.

An editorial in The New York Times said the bombing of Pearl Harbor finally put an end to the "easy-going optimism of the nineteenth century," where Americans "still believed without too much effort and too much pain things might be made to turn out all right."

It concluded: "We lack the tranquillity that might soften the ten-year-old tragedy. We lack the certainty that such tragedies will not be repeated. … As we commemorate the dead of Pearl Harbor we may hope and pray that no such commemoration of a new Pearl Harbor will be exacted of our descendants or of ourselves grown older."

What happened that morning at Pearl Harbor gnawed at the American public for years, even becoming a political issue.

"The public demanded victims and got them; the cause of the unreadiness that morning at the nation's most important Pacific naval base became a political issue that simmered for years," observed The Washington Post.

"But it had one effect which the Japanese could not possibly have foreseen. It brought dissident Americans together. It forged American opinion into a state of unity which nothing else could have done. It made absolutely certain the ruin of Japan," it said.

In another article in The Post, Edward T. Folliard wrote, "Today, as Japan rises from the wreckage of her defeat and prepares to join the family of nations, the sneak attack ordered by her militarists 10 years ago still seems to have been an act of fantastic and incredible stupidity."

Perhaps another explanation of the rather toned-down anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack is that the U.S. was again at war, this time in Korea.

There were bigger events for subsequent anniversaries such as the 25th in 1967, 40th in 1981, and 65th in 2006.

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