The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 remains deeply imbedded in the American psyche. On the 70th anniversary, Michael Ruane looked back at how the nation reacted to that fateful event:
For a time on Dec. 7, 1941, millions of Americans were getting their news about the attack on Pearl Harbor through a person named Ruthjane Rumelt.
She was an aide to White House Press secretary Stephen T. Early, and she relayed pieces of the story as it came in to reporters in the White House press room.
At the Redskins-Eagles game, in Washington’s Griffith Stadium that Sunday, the Associated Press football writer got word from headquarters to keep his story short, because: “The Japanese have kicked off.”
And an editor attending the game got a telegram from his frantic wife, addressed Section P, Top Row, Seat 27, opposite 25-yard line, East side, Griffith Stadium. It read, “War with Japan. Get to office.”
That surprise attack by Japanese planes on the complex of U.S. military installations in Hawaii was not just one of the most significant moments in American history, it was also one of the biggest news days. On Wednesday — the 70th anniversary of the attack — the National Archives is hosting a special program on Pearl Harbor and the media.
Titled “It Is No Joke — It Is a Real War: How Americans First Learned of Pearl Harbor,” the free program is being held in conjunction with the Newseum and is scheduled to be moderated by veteran broadcast journalist and scholar Marvin Kalb.
The program is slated to begin at 7 p.m. in the main Archives building downtown.
In the decades since the attack that plunged the United States into World War II, many have recounted where they were that day, but fewer have said how they found out.
Francis Stueve, a Pearl Harbor survivor, described his recollection of the attack. As Sylvia Carnigan wrote:
Around 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, Army Private Francis Stueve sat down to breakfast with the rest of the 89th Field Artillery battalion, stationed at Pearl Harbor.
“As quiet a day as you’ve ever seen,” Stueve remembers now. “Beautiful sunshine, nothing going on.”
Suddenly, not far from his seat in the dining hall: bang, bang, bang.
“Somebody says, ‘It’s the Chinese New Year,’ ” he said.
But then, a bullet broke through the glass window of the dining hall. Another flew just past Stueve and knocked the butter dish off the table.
Japan’s official declaration of war would come a day later, after the loss of 160 aircraft, 12 ships and 2,300 Americans, according to the Library of Congress — 70 years ago on Wednesday. Stueve, now 94, can describe his experience as if it were happening now:
Bewildered by the bullet, Stueve, then 24, and a few other men ran outside.
“We’re looking at the clouds, and watched a Japanese plane that had its signals on,” he said.
It was common for American planes to practice maneuvers, Stueve said, but he soon realized the Japanese plane was bent on attacking his base and his fellow soldiers.
“We were getting shot like everything was going to be destroyed,” he said. Soldiers fell left and right, buildings were hit by gunfire and ships suffered fatal gashes.
“We had so many casualties. It’s a hard thing to do when people are screaming for aid . . . and you don’t have nobody coming,” he said. “Some who were looking out for their own were also getting killed.”
About 120 survivors joined Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to observe a moment of silence at the exact time of the attack 70 years ago. As AP reported :
The Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor and those who lost their lives that day are being remembered Wednesday on the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack that brought the U.S. into World War II.
About 120 survivors will join Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, military leaders and civilians to observe a moment of silence in Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time — the moment the attack began seven decades ago.
About 3,000 people are expected to attend the event held each year at a site overlooking the sunken USS Arizona and the white memorial that straddles the battleship.
The Pearl Harbor-based guided missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon will render honors to the Arizona and blow its whistle at the start of a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. — the same time 70 years ago the first Japanese planes began to attack.
F-22 jets flown by the Hawaii National Guard are due to soar overhead in a missing man formation to finish the moment of silence.
Mal Middlesworth, a Marine veteran who was on the USS San Francisco during the bombing, will deliver the keynote address.
President Barack Obama hailed veterans of the bombing in a statement proclaiming Wednesday “National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.”
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