Remembering Dec. 7, 1941

by | December 7, 2017 6:28 am

Earl Rigsby, a World War II Army veteran, remembers the events that occurred during the attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago. (Photo by BOBBY MCCULLEY)

Today, Dec. 7, 2017, marks the 76th anniversary of the air raid that brought forth so much destruction and death. Today marks the anniversary of the bombing on Pearl Harbor that would test the strength and resolve of the nation.

On this date, 76 years ago, the Japanese Imperial Army would attack Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, which ultimately forced the United States into entering World War II.

Just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese military planes made a surprise air raid on Pearl Harbor, a major U.S. Navy base located near Honolulu, Hawaii.

“We were in the day room eating breakfast when they broke the news on the radio,” stated Earl Rigsby, a World War II Army veteran. “I won’t ever forget that and how everyone was reacting.”

Rigsby, a Van Buren County native, was stationed at Fort Benning, in Georgia, part of the 4th Infantry Division. He volunteered to enlist in the U.S Army, on May 20, 1941, just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I remember that everyone who was on pass was ordered to return to base,” stated Rigsby. “We stayed up all that day and night loading ammunition because we just knew they would try and invade the United States.”

During the raid, which was launched from aircraft carriers deep in the Pacific Ocean, nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, were damaged or destroyed, as well as more than 300 aircraft. More than 2,400 Americans died in that December attack, including civilians, and at least 1,000 additional were wounded.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is what brought the United States into World War II. Until the raid, the U.S. had not had a direct reason to join the global conflict, which had started on Sept. 1, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland.

In those nearly two-and-a-half years, the U.S. had extensively aided the United Kingdom, virtually the sole source of resistance to the Nazis, in Europe. However, the memories of the significant losses suffered during World War I and the effect of the Great Depression, led Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to be wary of military intervention. Pearl Harbor reversed that in less than a day. Congress took less than an hour after Roosevelt’s speech to issue a declaration of war.

“After they attacked Pearl Harbor they started sending troops overseas to join in the war,” stated Rigsby. “I was sent to England and stayed in Northern Ireland until they sent us across the English Channel into France.”

Rigsby was part of the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. This battle was the last major military battle in the Western Front during World War II.

“America lost a lot of soldiers in that battle,” added Rigsby. “We lost about 65 percent of the men who were a part of that battle.”

The official death toll in the Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack was 2,403, according to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau.   The death toll included 2,008 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, and 218 Army service members.

In comparison, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, resulted in 2,997 deaths. Until the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Pearl Harbor was the largest single attack against the United States.

As of July this year, there are only five survivors of the USS Arizona still alive: Lauren Bruner and Lou Conter, both from California, Lonnie Cook, of Oklahoma, Ken Potts, of Utah, and Donald Stratton, of Colorado.

All are in their mid-90s. Beyond those who survived on the USS Arizona, the totals are less clear and depend on just who are counted as survivors. In March of this year, the oldest living survivor of the attacks, Californian Ray Chavez, turned 105 this year. He was aboard a minesweeper, the Condor, when the raid occurred.

On this anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, remember the lives of those who perished on this day 76 years ago.

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