CDR Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D., USN(Ret)
Each year on December 7th, we commemorate the tragic event that triggered America’s entry into World War II with Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day to remember those who died when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
The attack just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday, killed 2,403 American military personnel and civilians and injured 1,178. The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II.
December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a speech to Congress, referred to the bombing of Pearl Harbor as “a date which will live in infamy.” The authenticated transcript of his speech follows:
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
I had the honor of being raised by a father who served in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II, first in the European Theater and then as part of the occupation forces in Germany.
I was also honored to meet and get to know my great-uncle (my Dad’s uncle), who was a Pearl Harbor Survivor.
Like many men who fought in and survived the war, both my Dad and Great Uncle were humble men who rarely recounted their wartime experiences.
At Pearl Harbor, after the initial recovery efforts were well underway, Chief Charles Forkner was summoned to the Ship’s Captain’s office. When he reported, the Captain invited him to sit down. The relatively brief discussion amounted to Chief Forkner being provided two options by his Captain: (1) he could accept a commission as an Ensign in the US Navy, or (2) accept retirement from the US Navy. He responded to the Captain that he would accept the commission with one condition. When the Captain asked what the proposed condition was, Chief Forkner stated, “respectfully request to have one last dinner in the Chief’s Mess, Sir!” The Captain approved his request and, a number of years of service later, LCDR Forkner retired.
My Dad was the example to me that led me to serve in the military and, subsequently, I spent a three-decade career in the US Navy. I was promoted to LT with collar insignia a shipmate made for LT Charles Forkner from silver dollars. When I was promoted to LCDR, I had LCDR Charles Forkner’s gold oak leaves pinned on the collar of my khaki uniform. His insignia now reside in a safe and my Dad’s in the shadow box containing his funeral flag so that the next generation can remember his service. I know that I will always remember.
As an end note, it was an honor to see a group of Pearl Harbor survivors being recognized by the President today. These brave men are, at a minimum, in their 90’s now–but their remembrance and resolve remain unwavering. In fact, at one point in the President’s comments, a 95-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor began to sing the “Remember Pearl Harbor” song, written after the attack on 12/7/1941.
To all the brave men and women who served in World War II, thank you for your service, thank you for your patriotism, bravery, and sacrifice;
to those on the Home Front, thank you for recycling, salvaging, rationing, working and volunteering;
and thank you and your families for keeping the lamp lit for 76 years so that we will all…