06 December 2013

December 7, 1941: A Date that Will Live in Infamy

Fredrick Holmes Christensen, 1877-1944, a Beaufort born business man, kept a diary from 1893 - 1944 beginning with his student years in Brookline, MA continuing almost daily through his many years as a businessman involved in lumber, hardware, petroleum, real estate, automobile, and truck farming enterprises here.  A member of his family donated a photocopy of all 12 volumes to the Beaufort District Collection. His is the only diary account that we have about the start of the war. 

What did Christensen write about "the date that will live in infamy,"  December 7, 1941 and its immediate results?

National Archives photograph
Sunday, December 7, 1941
We were electrified today when it was announced from Washington after 2 o'clock that Japanese aeroplanes had attacked the United States Naval base in Hawaian Islands and Honolulu.

For weeks Japan and the U.S. have been trying to find some common approach that would make grounds for peace,  but without much success.  Their views were too far apart.  Now without the least warning a severe attack was taken, apparently for the purpose of destroying as much of our fleet as possible, much as they did to the Russians nearly forty years ago. (This is a reference to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.)

Monday, December 8, 1941
The reports from Hawaii are sketchy and incomplete.  The Japanese claim they destroyed two battleships, an aeroplane carrier and hit numerous other warships.  Washington says one of the older battleships was damaged so badly that she capsized.  One destroyer blew up and several other vessels were damaged while 3000 casualties included 1500 killed.  Many aeroplanes destroyed. (The official count of casualties and damages from the United States Navy put the death toll at 2500.) 

Biographical Directory of the US Congress
Today at 12:30 Pres. Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and in a few words told of Japan's treachery and asked for a declaration of war.  Shortly after the Senate unanimously passed the resolution declaring war and the House with only one dis[s]enting vote - that of Mrs. Rankin.  Meantime Japan has been attacking Manilla from the air, also Hong Kong and Syngapore [sic].  On the other hand England and several South American countries have also declared war on Japan. (Representative Jeannette Pickering Rankin of Montana was a committed Pacifist. She was the first woman ever elected to Congress.  She was elected to the Congress twice:  In 1916 she voted against America's entry into the Great War; Re-elected in 1940, she was the only person to vote against declaring war on Japan in 1941.)

Tuesday, December 9, 1941
At 10 this evening the President talked to the country by Radio.  It was hoped he would give more details or to the attack on Hawaii, but he told little about that.  The losses our fleet sustained appear to have been serious.

US Navy photograph
Wednesday, December 10, 1941
England's Battleship Prince of Wales one of her largest, newest and finest and her battle cruiser Repulse have been sunk by Japanese aeroplanes.  The Japanese are driving at the Malaya Peninsula and is landing troops in the Philipines. ...

Thursday, December 11
... Hilter and Mossilini [sic] each made grandiloquent speeches to their people today stating that the United States had forced Japan to declare war on us.  Thus we were the agressor [sic] and in consequence they were bound by their treaty to come to the aid of their ally and declared war on us.  Whereon the United States and House of Representatives within a few minutes of being informed by the President of this action of Germany and Italy unanimously acted to declair [sic] war in turn on those countries.

Next entry:
Sunday, December 14, 1941
After one week of war we are still without information on the extent of the damaged [sic] inflicted on our fleet in Hawaii by the Japs last Sunday.  Except for that they do not seem to have made much head way.  Attempts to land forces in the Philipines do not seem to be making much progress.  Their attacks on the British in at Hong Kong and on the Maylay peninsular [sic] also seem to be making little progress.  On the other hand we have not struck back at yet.


National Parks Service photograph

To read more about the initial days of American's involvement in World War II as understood by Frederick Holmes Christensen, visit the Beaufort District Research Room and ask for volume 12.

To discover Elvis Presley's connection to Pearl Harbor, read "5 Facts about Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona."  The USS Arizona Memorial was authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958; it was formally dedicated on Memorial Day in 1962.

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