December 7, 1941

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. William C. Harris
  • 81st Training Wing
At 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941 the sun would rise on the island of Oahu, but not the sun that one might think. This sun rise would bring with it the destruction of nearly the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet, 200 airplanes, and the loss of nearly 2,400 American lives. It would be the rising sun of the Japanese flag, painted across the wings of 360 war planes as they targeted the naval base of Pearl Harbor. “… a date which will live in infamy…” President Franklin D. Roosevelt explained the following day on Dec.8. Words that would stand to be one of the greatest symbols of American anguish in history, and would mark the tipping point for the United States entrance into World War II. What some do not realize however, is the significance of this event and what it truly meant for the people of that time.

Prior to the events of December 7, the United States had adopted a type of isolationism approach to world events. Still reeling from the chaos and destruction of World War I, the U.S. was reluctant to become involved in another conflict. This approach would eventually lead to Congress passing the Neutrality Act in the 1930’s, preventing the U.S. from exporting arms, ammunition and any other implements of war to foreign allies. Over the next year a growing concern that the U.S. could become involved in yet another world war, strengthened public support of the act and allowed for its expansion despite the protests of President Roosevelt.

In 1939 as war began to spill across the world, President Roosevelt finally won out in his fight for greater support of the allies fighting the Axis Powers, as the arms embargo was lifted from the Neutrality Act. This allowed the U.S. to trade arms and ammunition under the terms of a “Cash-and-Carry” policy that required other nations to pay up front for anything they received from the U.S. Not long after this the Lend-Lease Act would be put into place allowing allied nations like Britain, China, and the Soviet Union to acquire transfers of loaned U.S. supplies and defense materials without compensation, a sort of loop hole to the Neutrality Act that allowed the allies to continue their fight unburdened, and would bring the U.S. one step closer to full involvement in the war. Then, in October of 1941 as the inevitability of U.S. involvement in World War II became more apparent, restrictions of the Neutrality Act began to dissolve until finally becoming all together irrelevant, following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. official entrance into the war.

Prior to this event however, President Roosevelt knew that U.S. involvement in the war would be unavoidable and wisely began preparing America’s neglected defenses and modernizing her military. In 1938 he proposed increased government spending to support a robust domestic military expansion program that included an Air Corps of 10,000 modern airplanes and an expanded training capacity of air crews and related support personnel to support an enlarged Air Corps. Biloxi became a benefactor of the training expansion in 1941 when it was selected as a site to host a new technical training base. The War Department activated Army Air Corps Station Number 8, Aviation Mechanics School on June 12, 1941. Shortly after its activation, Station Number 8 (redesignated Keesler Army Airfield, Aug. 25, 1941) also became a basic training center. Technical school students began arriving in July 1941; recruits started pouring into the base one month later. Technical training classes started 29 September 1941.

In the two hours that the attack lasted, the Japanese did much more than they had initially thought – they united a nation and succeeded in awakening a sleeping giant. In President Roosevelt’s speech the following day, he asked Congress to officially declare war against the Empire of Japan. That same Congress that had initially passed the Neutrality Act to prevent the U.S. from being drug into another war passed the President’s request by 388 to 1; not simply dragging the U.S. into war but thrusting them into it. Three days after the decision to go to war with Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. bringing them to full engagement in World War II.

While the attack on Pearl Harbor was a tragedy, it is a true testament to the heart and fighting spirit of the American people. It proved to the world that the people of the United States can and will unite, and that they will not tolerate such acts of aggression toward their country and their freedom.