The attack on Pearl Harbor and why citizens can't forget

December 07, 2004

It was Sunday morning shortly after 7:30 a.m. and Lee Soucy, a Pharmacist's Mate Second Class, had just finished breakfast. Stationed aboard the USS Utah in Hawaii, Soucy looked out a porthole and was surprised to see planes flying on a Sunday.

Even when the first bombs fell, Soucy recalled, no one thought that it was an enemy attack. U.S. planes practiced with dummy bombs all the time.

When the first explosion was heard, Soucy assumed there had been a terrible mistake, that someone had mistakenly loaded live weapons onto the planes.

Then the Utah was hit, began to list and the order went out to abandon ship. Soucy knew the beach on nearby Ford's Island was rugged, so he double-knotted his shoes so his feet wouldn't be torn up if he survived the swim across the channel.


When Soucy reached the beach, another pharmacist's mate was there. Before they could say more than a few words, two officers pulled up in a jeep and took them to the officers' quarters, where they set up an emergency treatment station.

The two medics soon ran out of denatured alcohol, so they used a variety of liquors to clean wounds and induce vomiting in the men who had swallowed sea water and oil that leaked into the water from the sunken ships.

That night, Soucy remembers, there was a terrible mistake. Scout planes from the USS Enterprise, 200 miles out to sea, returned to the base, only to be fired on by men who thought it was another attack.

Men who'd been stationed on the Utah had moved to partially submerged USS California. While firing at the scout planes, a stray, armor-piercing bullet hit another ship, the Argonne, where it wounded one Utah survivor and killed another.

That was just one story (provided by the U.S. Naval Historical Center) of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The attack lasted about two hours and cost more than 2,400 American lives. It was one of a series of surprise attacks Japan launched that day in places like Guam and the Philippines.

On Monday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, declaring that Dec. 7 would be "a date that will live in infamy," asked Congress to declare war.

We recall that day not to stir up animosity against the Japanese, who are now strong allies in the Pacific region.

We do it to remind readers that what U.S. citizens have today - America and its freedoms - were purchased with the sacrifice of many who came before this generation, including some who died at Pearl Harbor more than 60 years ago today.

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