Remembering the Significance of Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, December 7th, 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.” These words, first spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, forever changed our nation’s history. On this date, the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, was attacked by surprise by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service early that morning. The history of Pearl Harbor is one that many people know, but is one that is always worth retelling, because of the significance of the day and the tragedy that ensued.

In 1941, Pearl Harbor was known as the most important American naval base in the Pacific and was home to the US Pacific Fleet. The harbor’s location in Hawaii made it a fairly easy target for Japan, yet, military and intelligence officials weren’t afraid of an attack by Japan. Pearl Harbor is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 miles from the mainland of the United States and 4,000 miles from Japan. Many American officials believed Japan would invade colonies in the South Pacific, such as the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, or Indochina. These places were closer to Japan, compared to Pearl Harbor.

With the majority of the world already fighting World War II, Japan was on a mission to carry on with imperial expansion to other countries, islands, territories, and colonies in the world; to become a powerful military force; and create a new order in East Asia. One of their most important goals in succeeding in their mission was to destroy the Pacific Fleet in the United States. After many months of planning, on December 7th, 1941, at about eight o’clock in the morning, Japanese planes began dropping bombs onto the ships below. Ten minutes later, the battleship USS Arizona exploded and sank into the ocean with more than 1,000 men inside.

Within two hours, the surprise bombings had ended. The USS Oklahoma was torpedoed, and 400 sailors lost their lives as the battleship went under water. The USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and the USS Nevada were also damaged. Almost 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes were destroyed or damaged. Two thousand four hundred and three soldiers, sailors, and civilians were killed, and about 1,000 people were wounded. The horrific strike officially brought the United States into World War II and was a turning point for our country. After December 7, 1941, the US Pacific Fleet was moved to San Diego. All of the battleships, except the USS Arizona and USS Utah, were repaired. Memorials for the other two battleships have been placed in the harbor.

The year 2020 marks the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The significance of this attack is still as important today as it has been in the past decades. However, people of all ages may not be aware of the meaning of the day and why we should still remember those who fought at Pearl Harbor and during World War II. The history of Pearl Harbor will continue to live on as long as we, as a nation, continue to honor the day. There are a few things you could do to share the significance of the day.

  • First, have a discussion with others, including your children, about the history and exactly what happened at Pearl Harbor. The attack only lasted a couple of hours, but caused exponential loss of lives and damage. You could also explore the website for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial at You can see pictures of the island and the memorials on the site, hear survivor stories, and more.
  • Read age-appropriate books and watch videos to see the attack through the viewpoint of a survivor, fictional first-hand account, or historian. This is a great way to introduce younger generations to Pearl Harbor. Book titles to look at include Pearl Harbor (American Girl: Real Stories from My Time); History Smashers: Pearl Harbor; andWhat was Pearl Harbor?  Finally, Pinterest has many printable worksheets, such as coloring pages, reading passages, and word searches, to teach Pearl Harbor to children. These interactives will help children of all ages remember the importance of December 7th.

Pearl Harbor will always have a lasting impact on our country’s history. It was a turning point for the United States and still holds significance 79 years later.



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