• 66°

Editorial: Pearl Harbor remembered

'Infamy'

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

— President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Leroy Barber grew up in rural New London, Wis., hunting and fishing with two of his brothers. He enlisted in the Navy, trained at the Great Lakes facility north of Chicago and was assigned to a battleship. Barber enjoyed being a sailor, missed his brothers and advised them to join up. The Navy made an exception to its rule against putting family members on one boat — a decision their father sought to reverse — but America was not at war, and Hawaii was about as far from Europe’s fighting as you could get.

That’s how the Barber boys, Malcolm, 22, Leroy, 21 and Randolph, 19, came to serve together as firemen on the USS Oklahoma. And that is how they died: together, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 — 75 years ago today — when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and drew America into World War II.

“We are not bitter, but there is one thing neither of us can forgive,” Peter Barber, their father, told the Chicago Tribune in May 1942. “We were at peace when the attack started. Our boys didn’t even know about it. They must have been caught below decks without any chance to fight back. If they had known — if we had been on guard — they would have returned fire and they might not all have died.”

Many wars are remembered and battles commemorated. But only two dates on the calendar awaken recollections of a sneak attack on American territory by an undeclared enemy. One is Sept. 11, which was 15 years ago this year. And then there is Dec. 7, “a date which will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress in a national radio broadcast the next afternoon. A few hours later, the United States declared war on Japan. A few days later, the U.S. declared war on Germany.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but it was foreshadowed. In 1941, America was attempting to check Japanese aggression in China through economic sanctions. The U.S. knew from a code-breaking operation known as “Magic” that Japan was girding for war. Conflict seemed inevitable, but officials in Washington missed the signals that war was imminent, and never guessed Hawaii would be a target. The American public also was unprepared.

On Dec. 1, the Tribune reported that ongoing negotiations to halt Japan’s expansionist moves were at a critical juncture, but there was a distant, theoretical tone to the warning. The U.S., having backed Britain in Europe, was already engaged in quasi-conflict with Germany. In the Pacific, war against Japan remained an unappealing question. “The United States is not prepared to fight a war on two fronts and will not be before the completion of our two-ocean navy in 1946,” the Tribune’s story said.

The U.S. military was not on alert in Hawaii. Most naval personnel treated Dec. 7, a Sunday, as a day off. Around 7 a.m., just as radar operators were completing their overnight watch, they spotted a stunning concentration of aircraft coming their way — must be B-17s coming in from California, they were told.

Wrong: This was the first Japanese carrier strike force of torpedo- and dive-bombers, escorted by Zero fighters. The Japanese attack, completed in two waves in less than two hours, destroyed most of the U.S. military planes on the island of Oahu and devastated the U.S. Pacific fleet. Most of the ships’ anti-aircraft guns were unmanned. A few heroic American pilots got off the ground to shoot down Zeros, but the day marked a humiliating and painful entrance to the war. The Barber brothers were among 2,300 U.S. service members killed.

Firsthand descriptions of Dec. 7 have dwindled as survivors depart us, but the lesson of Pearl Harbor endures. In 1941, the United States failed to anticipate Japanese aggression. In 2001, terrorists intensified a slow-burning war against American civilians that had started years earlier and continues today. Despite America’s great power and comparative isolation on the map, it is vulnerable to the enemies it has, and the ones it may have. Our nation forgets that at its peril.

— Chicago Tribune

Comments

Local

Pedestrian hospitalized after being struck by police car

Local

Torch Run returns to Rowan streets, raises money for Special Olympics

Crime

Fish arcade company drops suit against Rowan County Sheriff’s Office

Crime

Man faces kidnapping, assault charges after woman escapes at Webb Road Flea Market

Local

Natoli promoted to assistant county manager, will retain human resources director title

Education

Attendance restriction lifted for RSS graduation ceremonies

Business

Rowan Chamber of Commerce will host in-person Power in Partnership on Thursday

Business

Rowan EDC will undergo name change, alter board requirements with updates to bylaws

Nation/World

Israel strikes Gaza tunnels as truce efforts remain elusive

Nation/World

Supreme Court to take up major abortion rights challenge

Nation/World

Biden boosting world vaccine sharing commitment to 80M doses

Crime

Man charged for stowing away on Norfolk Southern train, impeding railroad operations

Local

Group will protest treatment of Georgia woman during 2019 traffic stop

Crime

Man overdoses at Piedmont Correctional Institute

Crime

Sheriff’s Office: Two men escape from jail, found in bushes on Fulton Street

Ask Us

Ask Us: When will North Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue be resurfaced?

Local

Political Notebook: Rowan’s lawmakers pass 140 bills into the opposite chamber before deadline

Local

Police chief to present use of force policy; city manager to present 2021-22 budget

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on charges of felony larceny, possession of stolen vehicle

Coronavirus

CDC director says mask turnaround based solely on science

News

Catawba College hosts three in-person commencement ceremonies

Local

With high case loads causing numerous staff departures, Child Protective Services seeks more positions

Education

Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Coronavirus

Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline