December 7, 1941, remains a “date which will live in infamy” even today, as the United States on Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.
Commemorations across the country pay tribute to those who died that day as well as their comrades who perished over the course of the next four years. It was a defining moment in the lives of those who were there.
December 7, 1941, is one of those dates which conjures up the question “What were you doing when you first heard?” Because of the momentous historical shift it caused, the date continues to hold a pivotal place in the American psyche. The only dates even closely comparable among those still living today would be the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Hawaii time, scores of Japanese planes descended from the sky to drop bombs and launch torpedoes at U.S. Navy vessels, aircraft and ground facilities. U.S. Army air bases on the island were also targeted. The aerial assault caught American forces completely off guard. The attack came in two waves.
In searching through the archives of the Expositor and our sister paper, the Swanton Enterprise, an interview with Herb Garsey in the Dec. 4, 1991 paper was found. Then Swanton resident Garsey spoke of handling guard duty at Pearl Harbor that night.
He said he had a feeling something was going to happen after he was issued live ammunition for the first time.
“They must have known something was cookin’. It just seemed strange to get live ammo without any explanation,” Garsey said at the time.
Following his guard duty, Garsey had just eaten breakfast and was on his way back to barracks when he saw aircraft coming.
“I heard a buzz and looked up and saw dive bombers,” he said. “I thought they were ours at first.”
He grabbed his gun and hit in a culvert after seeing tracer bullets and the red circle of the sun on the plane.
Garsey said it was mass chaos around him during the attack. “Everyone was running around yelling and firing their guns.”
In less than two hours, 2,403 Americans were dead and an additional 1,178 others wounded. Four U.S. battleships lay at the bottom of the harbor, numerous other vessels were severely damaged, and hundreds of U.S. planes were smouldering in ruins. Fortunately for the Navy, its aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor, but at sea during the attack.