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Pearl Harbor 75 Years Later: U.S. Recalls A Shocking Attack

An explosion at the Naval Air Station Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, is seen during the Japanese attack. The U.S. is marking the 75th anniversary of the violence that thrust the country into World War II.
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An explosion at the Naval Air Station Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, is seen during the Japanese attack. The U.S. is marking the 75th anniversary of the violence that thrust the country into World War II.

Marking the day in 1941 that thrust the U.S. into World War II, Americans are honoring veterans and remembering those who lost their lives in Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. We're also remembering how the nation responded to what President Franklin Roosevelt called a "date which will live in infamy."

"The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association once had 18,000 members," Wayne Yoshioka from Hawaii Public Radio reports for Morning Edition. "It was disbanded in 2011, when membership was down to 2,700."

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Here are some highlights of how public media outlets are covering the anniversary of a surprise strike that killed more than 2,300 people:

About an hour and a half before the attack, Navy veteran Will Lehner tells NPR, he was part of a patrol crew that sank a small Japanese submarine near the entrance to the harbor. Lehner says, "We saw a lot of smoke and planes diving. We didn't know how bad it was until about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and we had to go in." He adds, "That's when we saw all of the destruction. There were bodies floating in the water."

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Earl Smith, 94, was onboard the USS Tennessee during the attack — and as he tells Hawaii Public Radio, he was also part of his ship's baseball team, which had just beaten teams from the USS West Virginia and the USS Arizona in a double-header on Dec. 6. This year, he traveled back to Pearl Harbor for the anniversary — but he doesn't like to see the roster of the dead that's memorialized in the harbor: "Half of the West Virginia's ballplayers were killed, and all of the Arizona's ballplayers were killed," he tells Hawaii Public Radio.

From Arizona Public Media comes an interview with USS Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner, who was 21 when the attack came. Bruner, who is now 96, was in charge of fire control for the ship's guns. He was among the last to leave the ship — and he did so with two bullet wounds and burns on more than 70 percent of his body.

"Schools were closed, mail was censored, and food and fuel were rationed as Hawai'i was put under martial law," Hawaii Public Radio reports. Barbara Del Piano says her family was about to eat waffles after going to church when news of the attack came. "Everything changed after that. Never again was Hawai'i the same," says Del Piano, who was 12 at the time. "It was so sad to see our casual, easy way of living disappear overnight."

Now 92, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga (then Aiko Yoshinaga) was a senior at Los Angeles High School at the time of the attack. She recounts to NPR the story of how she and her family were sent to detention centers and internment camps. She gave birth to her daughter in the Manzanar War Relocation Center, near Death Valley, Calif.

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As for the man who planned the Japanese attack, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, a naval historian recounts how Yamamoto was well-acquainted with the U.S., having attended Harvard and studied the life of Abraham Lincoln.

"Like Lincoln, Adm. Yamamoto was also raised in very poor conditions and studied very, very hard to get to where he was," historian Capt. Yukoh Watanabe tells NPR. "Lincoln was so attractive as a leader and not because he was perfect, but because he had his faults."

Watanabe then reads from a letter Yamamoto wrote about how he viewed the surprise attack on the U.S.:

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"I find my present position extremely odd, obliged to make up my mind to and pursue unswervingly a course that is precisely the opposite of my personal views. Perhaps this, too, is the will of heaven."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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