The images of the attack on Pearl Harbor will be forever etched in the mind’s eye of Americans everywhere. As with the images of the airliners hitting the World Trade Center towers, the fire and smoke of December 7, 1941, can’t be erased from our memories. We seldom see, however, photos that portray the aftermath of that horrible day.
The Japanese attack was terrifically effective and left behind tasks that would appear to be impossible to accomplish. How, for instance, do you right the battleship USS Oklahoma that has turned completely over? How do you prepare to fight a war and change the largest naval base outside of mainland USA into an impenetrable fort while, at the same time, repairing the damage and cleaning up the carnage left behind?
The days and weeks after the attack have to be seen in context for the tasks to be appreciated: By year’s end (1941), Japan had attacked and occupied virtually every Allied installation between Hawaii and Tokyo. The country dominated almost every square mile of the western Pacific. For that reason, with Pearl Harbor and the many Army facilities on Oahu being the launch points for all U.S. efforts in the Pacific, the fears of another Hawaiian attack were completely logical. So while the island was grieving and sweeping up, the governments—local, federal, and military—had to explosively expand their defenses and build the capacity to mount a viable offense against what appeared to be an invincible enemy. Images from that time are not a part of America’s collective memory because they are seldom seen.
When ace Flight Journal archivist Stan Piet was asked to “send in some Pearl Harbor images” and we began sifting through them, we were amazed at how few of them were familiar. We found the story that the images told to be incredibly interesting and sometimes poignant. It was a story that we knew existed, but we’d never given enough thought about pictures to illustrate it. So rather than making this issue’s Gallery a portrait of airplanes, we decided to make it a portrait of Americans coming back from a national disaster.
To read the article from the December issue of Flight Journal, click here.
By Budd Davisson | Photos courtesy of Stan Piet