Beliefnet

The mighty U.S.S. Oklahoma was capsized. The U.S.S. Maryland was hit twice, but not seriously damaged.

Eight U.S. Army Air Corps pilots managed to get airborne during the battle and six were credited with downing at least one Japanese aircraft each.

The attack came as a profound shock to the American people. A deep domestic yearning to stay neutral from the war raging in Europe evaporated, particularly after Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy declared war on the U.S. on December 11.

President Roosevelt delivering his "Day of Infamy" speech

There might be historical precedents for such an unannounced military action by Japan – a “sneak attack.” However, the lack of any formal warning, particularly while peace negotiations were ongoing in Washington, D.C., led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim to Congress that December 7, 1941, would forever be ”a date which will live in infamy.”

My grandfather was infuriated by the sneak attack – but heartsick over the reaction against U.S.-born Japanese-Americans. Within weeks of the attack, American citizens of Japanese ancestry were rounded up

into “relocation camps” in the California and Arizona deserts. There, they stared out through barbed wire at angry Americans denouncing them as “dirty Japs.”

The notice ordering Japanese into camps

My grandfather was so appalled that he took his family out into the desert for most of the war, living at camps in California and at Casa Grande, Arizona. Toward the end of the war, they ended up in Gunnison, Utah, when some Japanese-Americans were permitted to live outside of the barbed wire as tensions eased.

Internned Japanese-American kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance

A loyal, patriotic American, my grandfather came under severe criticism. There was little financial support for a missionary who seemingly had taken the side of the enemy. Yet, he was convinced these heartbroken Americans whose ancestors had immigrated decades earlier were no enemy. Any who wished to return to Japan were given free passage back there. The ones in the U.S. internment camps wanted nothing to do with an empire on the other side of the world that had attacked their native homeland.

Congressional Medal of Honor winner George Sakako at a recent ceremony

Out of those relocation camps came the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army — composed of Japanese-American enlisted men who pleaded to be allowed to join the battle. Although their families were in internment camps in the desert, the 442nd fought with distinction in Italy, southern France and Germany. They became the most highly–decorated regiment in the history of the United States armed forces, earnintg over 18,000 individual medals, including 9,000 Purple Hearts, over 4,000 Silver Stars, 560 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 22 Legions of Merit and 21 Congressional Medals of Honor.

Today on my mom’s wall is an Easter lily plaque carved by hand and painted by one of the Japanese-Americans from a piece of scrap lumber. She quietly looks at it from time to time, remembering that day in December 1941 when her world – and that of millions of others — turned upside down as the U.S. Pacific Fleet burned in the oily waters of Pearl Harbor.



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