December 7, 1941, was a beautifully sunny Sunday in Hawaii, when shortly after 8:00a chaos and death rained down from the skies. When the attack ended we had lost 2400+ lives, 20 battleships, 300 planes and gained our fierce entry into World War II.
The attack on Pearl Harbor came as a complete surprise, but it’s important to realize that Japan and the United States had been at odds for years over Japan’s treatment of China. When Japan declared war on China in 1937 they were looking to physically take over China’s land and therefore the commerce in an attempt to solve Japan’s economic issues. For six weeks beginning on December 13, 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army murdered between 200,000 – 300,000 Chinese in what became known as the Nanking Massacre. As a result of this heinous murder campaign, America hit Japan with economic sanctions and trade embargoes with the belief that cutting off Japan’s access to money and goods would cripple their efforts at expansionism. Instead, it created a greater determination by the Japanese to continue expanding their territory and now the United States was an enemy.
Japan’s intent in attacking Pearl Harbor was to effectively cripple our Pacific Fleet and then demand that the sanctions and embargoes be lifted. However, while the number of lives lost as well as ships and planes seems overwhelming, our entire fleet of aircraft carriers was left unscathed as they were ALL out of port on delivery missions or docked on the mainland. And aircraft carriers were the greatest threat in this war as so much was fought with planes! Plus, the Japanese had missed the base’s oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards, and submarines docks – enabling the US to recover relatively quickly. Japan not only failed to cripple our Pacific Fleet, but the attack served to energize the entire nation and when President Roosevelt went to Congress for approval of his declaration of war, it was quickly approved and the United States was officially at war with Japan.
On December 11, 1941, Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States due to the “Tripartite Pact, a pact of mutual alliance, that the three countries had signed on September 27, 1940. This pact stated that Japan, Germany, and Italy would support one another in their land takeovers as well as not encroach on either country’s land stealing. Hence, when the United States declared war on Japan, Germany & Italy had no choice to but to declare back. The United States issued another declaration of war against Germany and Italy and this is how, two years after the war began, the United States marked its entry into the “war to end all wars”.
So today we pay our respects to those that fought in World War II both on the battlefields, in the air, supported our troops and their armament, and the civilians that lept into action to produce the much-needed materials for war. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II, my paternal grandfather, George Stapleton (Big G), was an Army MP stationed in Italy and later put on a troop transport ship to head to Japan. My maternal grandfather, William Bova (Grandad), was in the Army Air Force, where he was giving specialized training in the maintenance and repair of all types of aircraft.
It was during Big G’s transfer to Japan in August 1945, that the United States dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nakasaki quickly ending their part of the war and Big G’s ship was immediately deployed home. My grandfather returned to the United States, wired my grandmother and she drove straight to the base in Upstate New York to pick him up. They were married on September 7, 1945, a few short weeks after he had been in the war.
Here is the very elated couple, Florence & George Stapleton, on their wedding day.
Grandad enlisted in November of 1940 and was trained at the Boston Ground Crew School, where he received top marks. He served as a ground crew member in both England and France repairing and maintaining the vital aircraft used to fight the Axis powers. He also spent time in Hanau, Germany in 1945. American servicemen were in many cities and towns immediately after the war helping to clear the rubble and begin the rebuilding process. Hanau, Germany was one critical city destroyed by the RAF in the effort to take out the factories supplying the Axis forces.
So today, please take a moment to honor and recognize the sacrifice and courage of those we lost in Pearl Harbor and those that fought in their memory, both home and abroad, against the Axis’ plans for territorial expansion.