Last month, I enjoyed a week of magical bliss in the Land of Aloha. While in Hawaii, I did take a break from my full schedule of rest and relaxation to take in a major part of U.S. and world history.
Just twelve miles from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, Pearl Harbor is where America entered into World War II, and Pearl Harbor hosts the battleship where World War II officially came to a close. On the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I figured today is the right time for us to return there to take a closer look at America’s part of the war that ultimately reshaped the world’s order.
What happened in Hawaii 77 years ago?
On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 2,335 U.S. troops, 64 Japanese troops, and 68 civilians were killed on that incredibly tragic day.
At the time the U.S. government suspected Japan was planning an attack, but didn’t realize Japan was sending planes towards Hawaii. Meanwhile the Japanese government considered this a preventive attack to ensure that the U.S. Pacific Fleet wouldn’t interfere in Japan’s conquest of U.S, British, and Dutch overseas territories in Southeast Asia, but Japan didn’t realize that its December 7 attack would instead compel the U.S. to get off the sidelines and join the Allied Forces fighting against Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
Today, Pearl Harbor remains an active military base and the USS Arizona Memorial lies where the famous battleship was attacked and ultimately fell on that fateful day 77 years ago. It’s currently closed for repairs, but it’s scheduled to reopen to visitors next March. Though I couldn’t venture directly to the Memorial when I was in Hawaii last month, I nonetheless felt the hallowed energy from a few hundred feet away. It truly felt like a journey back in time as we landed in Pearl Harbor.
How is the USS Missouri part of World War II history?
Construction of the USS Missouri began in January 1941, right as the U.S. was publicly demanding Japan cease its aggressive actions in China, and just as the U.S. was secretly in discussions with the U.K. and the Netherlands to form a joint defense agreement in case Japan attacks any of their Pacific territories. Just over two years following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, future First Daughter Margaret Truman christened the Missouri. And after being moored at Pearl Harbor the previous December, the Missouri set sail towards Asia in February 1945 and aided in air strikes against Tokyo.
During the spring of 1945, the Missouri also played a key supportive role in the Allied’ invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Then on September 2 of that year, Japanese officials came on board the Missouri to formally surrender, thereby ending World War II worldwide. (Germany had already surrendered on May 7, 1945, thereby ending the war in Europe.)
So here we have it, both the beginning and the end of America’s official involvement in World War II right here in Pearl Harbor. The Missouri provided logistical support for U.N. forces during the Korean War, then was decommissioned under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, then was recommissioned and modernized under President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The Missouri once again aided U.N. forces during the first Gulf War in 1991, and it was the first battleship to fire Tomahawk missiles as Operation Desert Storm commenced. Then under President George H.W. Bush, the Missouri was decommissioned for the second and final time.
For the past 20 years, the Missouri has been in Pearl Harbor and open to guests as a museum. This ship truly is living history, and I felt honored to visit last month and experience so much of this amazing ship in person. And now that we’re remembering what happened at Pearl Harbor 77 years ago, it’s important for all of us to remember not just what happened, but who sacrificed it all for our freedom and security, and why so many people have worked so hard since the end of this war to secure a more peaceful future for us all.