Heroes of Pearl Harbor

  • Michael Denmon
Heroes of Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor shook the United States of America, some 82 years ago. The Hawaiian Islands were a critical defense point and the fact that America’s naval fleet could be decimated in such a way there was unfathomable by most. The attack by the Japanese was meant to cripple a sleeping giant before it got involved in the conflict the rest of the world found itself mired in. Instead, it awoke the giant. And it served as a showcase of the heroism that the American people, united behind a just cause, have within them.

Winston Churchill, about the entrance of the American people into the fray, was quoted as saying, “...the United States, united as never before, have drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the scabbard.” The night of the attack, Churchill was quoted as having, “...went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

While Churchill and most of Europe may have been glad for the act that urged the USA to join in the fight against the Axis forces, who were the heroes of Pearl Harbor?

The American People

The American people reported to join the armed services in droves after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within 30 days, more than 134,000 men and women had volunteered to go to war against those who would attack others so callously. Outrage, patriotism, and a sense of duty and desire for retribution, all drove the American people to join the war, as well as the war effort.

Within one year of the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 50 million people of a total population of 132 million, had stepped up to do their part to provide the goods and services that the fighting men and women needed to overthrow the forces of evil. Little kids went searching for tin cans for scrap to aid the war effort. Women went without nylon stockings. Men who could not serve in the battles, did their best to contribute in other ways.

The people back at home did their best to let their military know that they were supported while going toe-to-toe with the armies aligned against the USA.

The Unexpected Soldier

One of the most lauded stories of heroism that comes from the events of December 7th, 1941, is that of Doris Miller. He was a cook and laundry attendant aboard the USS West Virginia, a battleship docked in Oahu. When the Japanese planes started their attack, he busied himself assisting gravely injured sailors and helping them to safety while planes continuously rained down bullets, bombs, and torpedoes from the skies. 

He then remained in the fight and defense of his fellow servicemen, taking up the controls of an anti-aircraft gun that he had never been trained on. The native Texan was able to figure out how to work the gun and managed to shoot down between four to six enemy aircraft before the attack was suspended. He was the first African-American sailor to be awarded the Navy Cross but sadly passed away during World War II while bravely serving his country.

Of all the brave men and women who experienced the brazen attack on that day so many years ago, Miller could have had the most reason to not think of the others around him who were killed and injured. But he did what was right on that tragic day. He defended his countrymen and went beyond the call of duty, saving countless lives in the process.

The Civilian Hero

During the attack, carnage and chaos reigned supreme. With multiple explosions and fires ongoing, and ships being either sunk or making their escape, a civilian crane operator stayed in his seat at the controls and did what he could to help protect the crews and crippled ships alongside the dock where his crane was located. As Japanese fighters made their strafing runs to try and cause even more decimation, George Walters used the boom on his machine to help block any clear flight paths that the planes could have used to finish off their attack and attempt at victory.

Quickly, the sailors aboard the ship closest to his crane, realized that his elevated position was perfect for spotting incoming aircraft, and they quickly used his actions to help them narrow down their field of fire and successfully defend other sailors and ships from being destroyed. Due to the selflessness of Walters on that day, ten enemy planes were brought down and untold lives were saved.

In fairness, all of the men and women who died that day were heroes of Pearl Harbor. All the men and women who were there and fought to defend others were heroes as well. The people of the United States were heroes that day, even if their involvement didn’t come until days, weeks, months, or years afterward.

If only one group or person or thing could receive the plaudits of heroism from December 7th, 1941, then it would be the American ideal. On that day, men and women did what does not come naturally to most people. They put their lives on the line for others in the defense of what was right and against what was wrong. That act of valor is something we should all be proud of and do our best to live up to in our own lives today.

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash