Remembering the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

In late 1941, World War II had been underway for 2 years.


In Europe, the Nazi war machine had conquered much of Europe, had turned on the Soviet Union while England was alone.


Japan had conquered China and was preparing to rule all of the Pacific.


In the United States, isolationist sentiments were strong.


The first peacetime draft was begun in October 1940, but then it came time to extend it. President Franklin Roosevelt asked the U.S. Congress to extend the term of duty for the draftees from 12 months to 30 months, plus any additional time that he could deem necessary for national security. On Aug. 12, the U.S. House approved the extension by a single vote.


So the attack by the Japanese forces on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, woke up the nation.


In less than two hours, the Japanese crippled or destroyed nearly 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes. Dry docks and airfields were destroyed.


Every battleship in Pearl Harbor was seriously damaged. Significantly damaged were the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee and USS Nevada.


Most important, 2,403 sailors, soldiers and civilians were killed and about 1,000 people were wounded.


Without underplaying the attack, the damage could have been much worse.


All but USS Arizona and USS Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired. Some of the survivors of both ships chose to be interred back to their ship after their death.


Fortunately, every carrier was out of port at the time of the attack. Some had returned to the mainland and others were delivering planes to troops on Midway and Wake Islands.


In addition, vital onshore facilities — oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards and submarine docks — were intact.


As a result, the U.S. Navy was able to rebound relatively quickly from the attack.


Six months later at the Battle of Midway, the U.S. carrier fleet won a huge battle over the Japanese, thus establishing naval superiority in the Pacific for the rest of the war.


Pearl Harbor National Memorial


Every American should try to visit Pearl Harbor once in their lifetime. It is a stirring emotional experience since the site is both a national park and a burial ground for many of the sailors on the USS Arizona.


The attack killed 1,177 sailors on the Arizona and over 900 could not be recovered. There were 38 sets of two brothers on board and three sets of three brothers. Of these 79 people, 63 died.


The second largest number of deaths occurred on the USS Oklahoma with 429 lost.


A total of 49 civilians were killed in the attack.


The memorial was built in 1962 over the sunken ship. The visitor center is not on a military base and is accessible to the public. While admission is free, a timed ticket is required.


Every American should try to visit this special place at least once.


Sources: National Park Service, History Channel website. This editorial was originally published in the Florida Times-Union, a sister newspaper within Gannett.