December 7th

On this day in 1941 – Japanese forces attacked the home base of the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and other British and American territories and possessions in the Pacific.

“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… No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will through their righteous might win through to absolute victory… With confidence in our armed forces-with the unbounded determination of our people-we will gain the inevitable triumph-so help us God. I, therefore, ask that the Congress declare that since the dastardly and unprovoked attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire (hear the entire speech on audio).”

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dec. 8, 1941, speech asking Congress to declare war on Japan

Pearl Harbor was called Wai Momi (“pearl waters”) by the Hawaiians because of the pearl oysters that once grew there. In 1840 Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Navy made the first geodetic survey and urged the dredging of the coral-bar entrance to the harbor. About 30 years later, Colonel John McAllister Schofield further recommended that the United States secure harbor rights. A subsequent treaty (1887) granted the United States the exclusive use of the harbor as a coaling and repair station; however, work was not begun until after 1898, when the Spanish-American War indicated its strategic value as a Pacific base. A naval station was established after 1908, and a drydock was completed in 1919.

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