Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Next Thursday, 7 December 2023

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day takes place on December 7. It commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The day is also known as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and Pearl Harbor Day. It also honors efforts made in the Pacific War (WWII) that followed the attacks.

While it is a federally recognized observance, Pearl Harbor Day is not a holiday. Federal offices, mail services, and businesses follow standard working hours.

What Happened at Pearl Harbor?

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, just before 8 a.m., hundreds of Japanese fighter planes and submarines attacked the United States naval base of Pearl Harbor. 

In just over an hour, the surprise attack destroyed or damaged more than 300 aircraft and 19 Navy ships, including 8 battleships. More than 2,400 navy personnel and civilians died and over 1,100 were injured.

President Franklin D Roosevelt called it “a date that will live in infamy,” and declared war on Japan the following day, on December 8. Three days later, Japan’s allies Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. Thus, the United States entered World War II.

Why Was Pearl Harbor Attacked?

There had been strained relations between the United States and Japan for decades. The United States had been alert to Japan’s efforts of expansion, and especially Japan's declaration of war on China in 1937. Japan intended to attack the Philippines, Burma, and Malaya to obtain needed resources. The United States Pacific Fleet stood in their way. By Mid-1941, the Japanese occupied all of Indochina and had entered into the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, the Axis Powers.

The United States, in turn, imposed economic sanctions and trade embargoes on Japan, stifling their access to essential war materials. The sanctions strained relations between the two countries even more. Despite months of negotiations, no agreement was made. War seemed inevitable. 

The Pacific was an area of significant importance, and Pearl Harbor had been a principal site of the American Naval placement in the Pacific Ocean since 1887. It, however, was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and 4,000 miles away from Japan. No one suspected a war would begin there.  The harbor was left relatively defenseless. Warnings issued from America months in advance, and even from radars on the day, were ignored. The Pacific Fleet was moored side-by-side around Ford Island in the harbor, and hundreds of airplanes sat vulnerably in surrounding fields.

Peal Harbor

The Aftermath

Although Pearl Harbor started the Pacific War, the United States Navy was able to recover quickly from the attack as the main supplies were not damaged. Many ships were salvaged and repaired.

The cost of human life was high: The U.S. military lost over 106,000 in the Pacific War; Japan lost 2.1 million. 

Americans of Japanese descent were also considered a threat to security. Therefore, in March 1942, the federal War Relocation Authority (WRA) was established “to take all people of Japanese descent into custody, surround them with troops, prevent them from buying land, and return them to their former homes at the end of the war.”

History of Pearl Harbor Day

On May 30, 1962, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial was established at the site in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In August 1994, the United States Congress designated December 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. In November, President Bill Clinton issued a proclamation declaring December 7, 1994, the first National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

 Never again can America be unprepared, or permit an aggressor to threaten our vital interests, or isolate itself from events of global significance. 

In 2021, the attack on Pearl Harbor will see its 80th anniversary, and as is the case every year, a ceremony took place to commemorate the occasion. The ceremony included a blessing, a military rifle salute, a flyover formation, two speeches, and a minute's silence at exactly 07.55, the time that the attacks began. 

The USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Site.
The USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Site.

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day

Each year the President issues a proclamation honoring the military, survivors, and veterans, with appropriate ceremonies and activities. All Federal agencies are required to display the American flag at half-staff. Citizens who display the flag are asked to do the same.

There are memorial services held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, leading up to a commemoration ceremony on December 7. The site is free for visitors to attend, including the visitor center, museums, and the USS Arizona Memorial Program. 

In schools, special programs focus on educating students about the history of Pearl Harbor. It also teaches young people about the internment and ill-treatment of Japanese Americans.

There have also been many movies, miniseries, and documentaries about the attack. Michael Bay's 2001 movie titled Pearl Harbor is one well-known example.

In 2021 the hashtag #PearlHarbor trended on social media as people across the country, both young and old, shared their thoughts and reflections on the event with their friends and family. 

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day - Next years

Saturday, 07 December 2024

Sunday, 07 December 2025

Monday, 07 December 2026

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