On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, the radar operator noticed numerous blips on his radar. He thought they were “friendlies” – either part of U.S. practices or perhaps even part of show being done for the civilians.
When he heard machine-gun fire, he thought the show was being well-performed.
Nonetheless, during the time after he first saw the blips in the 15 to 20 minutes leading up to 8 a.m., the radar operator had let his superiors know what he was seeing, all of whom had either told him it was nothing to worry about or that his radar was malfunctioning.
But the radar operator knew it was not a show for civilians or a “radar malfunction” when he saw men on various decks being cut in half by machine fire: when he saw torpedoes launched from planes skimming just under the surface of the water and, in many cases, sinking ships docked at Pearl Harbor.
By the time the U.S. realized what was happening, it was too late to do much more than save what lives remained in vulnerable positions.
The attack, which was actually various waves of attacks, ended with 6 ships sunk (4 battleships, 2 others), and multiple additional ships crippled or grounded. Of the airplanes which had been stationed wing to wing, 188 were destroyed, and nearly 160 more were damaged.
More important than any of this was the loss of life — over 2,400 Americans were killed, over 1,200 Americans were wounded.
I can never forget the stories I’ve read of the men who died in the bowels of partially sunken ships. They had no way out as water and oil, leaking from bursting pipes, rushed in on them. Stories are legion of the notes they scribbled in last their minutes — “Tell my wife I love her” — and of the messages they tapped out by knocking against the walls of the ships before they were overcome.
God bless those brave souls, and God bless everyone who fights today in the spirit those men modeled.