National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, also referred to as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day or Pearl Harbor Day, is observed annually in the United States on December 7, to remember and honor the 2,403 citizens of the United States who were killed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
On August 23, 1994, the United States Congress, by Pub.L. 103–308, designated December 7 of each year as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. On Pearl Harbor Day, the American flag should be flown at half-staff until sunset to honor those who died as a result of the attack on U.S. Military and naval forces in Hawaii.
Pearl Harbor Day is not a federal holiday – government offices, schools, and businesses do not close. Some organizations may hold special events in memory of those killed or injured at Pearl Harbor.
Just before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. The barrage lasted just two hours, but it was devastating: The Japanese managed to destroy nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight enormous battleships, and more than 300 airplanes. More than 2,000 Americans soldiers and sailors died in the attack, and another 1,000 were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan; Congress approved his declaration with just one dissenting vote. Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States, and again Congress reciprocated. More than two years into the conflict, America had finally joined World War II.
The Japanese plan was simple: Destroy the Pacific Fleet. That way, the Americans would not be able to fight back as Japan’s armed forces spread across the South Pacific. On December 7, after months of planning and practice, the Japanese launched their attack.
At about 8 a.m., Japanese planes filled the sky over Pearl Harbor. Bombs and bullets rained onto the vessels moored below. At 8:10, a 1,800-pound bomb smashed through the deck of the battleship USS Arizona and landed in her forward ammunition magazine. The ship exploded and sank with more than 1,000 men trapped inside. Next, torpedoes pierced the shell of the battleship USS Oklahoma. With 400 sailors aboard, the Oklahoma lost her balance, rolled onto her side and slipped underwater. By the time the attack was over, every battleship in Pearl Harbor–USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee and USS Nevada–had sustained significant damage. (All but USS Arizona and USS Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired.)
In all, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor crippled or destroyed nearly 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes. Dry docks and airfields were likewise destroyed. Most important, almost 2,500 men were killed and another 1,000 were wounded.
But the Japanese had failed to cripple the Pacific Fleet. By the 1940s, battleships were no longer the most important naval vessel: Aircraft carriers were, and as it happened, all of the Pacific Fleet’s carriers were away from the base on December 7. (Some had returned to the mainland and others were delivering planes to troops on Midway and Wake Islands.) Moreover, the Pearl Harbor assault had left the base’s most vital onshore facilities–oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards and submarine docks–intact. As a result, the U.S. Navy was able to rebound relatively quickly from the attack.