MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Tuesday will mark the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor – a day that altered the legacy of the nation and the Marine Corps like few others.
Although the great powers of the world had been entrenched in the second World War since 1939, the United States had been determined to remain neutral.
That all changed in 1941, on a warm December morning in Hawaii just before 8 a.m. when the Empire of Japan launched its assault from six aircraft carriers carrying a combined 420 planes. The Japanese attacked in two waves of roughly 200 aircraft each.
In little time the U.S. Pacific Fleet was decimated, having lost thousands of Marines and Sailors, with more than 20 ships sunk or damaged, and most of the U.S. military’s Hawaii-based aircraft grounded.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Lee Soucy, a pharmacist’s mate stationed aboard the USS Utah, provided a first-hand account of the attack to the Naval History and Heritage Command, which published the story on its website, http://www.history.navy.mil.
“A number of the ship’s tremors are vaguely imprinted in my mind, but I remember one jolt quite vividly,” Soucy said. “As I was running down the passageway toward my battle station, another torpedo or bomb hit and shook the ship severely. I was knocked off balance and through the log room door. I got up a little dazed and immediately darted down the ladder below the armored deck.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation the next day, informing the world that, “The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
In attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese intended to preemptively impede the United States’ ability to thwart Japan’s planned offensive in the Pacific. By all accounts, the plan backfired, as Roosevelt urged Congress to, “Declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”
“With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God,” Roosevelt said.
As commander-in-chief, Roosevelt placed his confidence in the Marines, who as both America’s force in readiness and its amphibious fighting force, led the charge in battles that have become legend.
Over the next three years, the Marines distinguished themselves in the Pacific through battles in Midway, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Time and time again, Marines assaulted heavily fortified Japanese positions, putting themselves between the Empire of Japan and family and friends back home.
Marines earned their legacy in the Pacific theater that followed, emerging from the conflict with heroes like Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone and Brig. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller.
As Roosevelt said on Dec. 8, before the smoke had hardly cleared from the devastation thousands of miles away, “I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.”
The Marines of World War II made sure their president’s assertion was true.