Remembering the Women at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941

There were women at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. No one talks about it much because there were so few of them compared to the men.

Today is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, also known as the “date that will live in infamy.”

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is a national park. A new $56 million visitor’s center is being dedicated this week. The highlight of the four days of events marking the occasion is a ceremony this morning at 7:30 a.m. Honolulu time, exactly 18 minutes before the 1941 attack began.

Out of the 1,511 men on board the USS Arizona, 334 survived. One man who’d been sent to recover the dead said, “The Arizona burned for 2½ days. A lot of these men burned right down to the deck. But I didn’t have anything, and I couldn’t stop the ashes [from blowing away]. I just sort of sank down, and I shed a few tears.”

Of those Arizona survivors, only 20 are alive today. But more than 200 survivors of the attack are on hand for the ceremony today in Honolulu.

Writes author Carl Zebrowski of the first 24 hours: “For one day — Sunday, December 7, 1941– the front and the home front were one and the same. America was under enemy attack. Japanese bombers hit the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, hard. Los Angeles could be next, or maybe New York.”

Almost 60 years would pass before Americans would feel that way again, on Sept. 11, 2001.

The No. 1 song on the charts that day was “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller’s swing band.

During and after the Pearl Harbor attacks, 57 civilians were killed and 35 were wounded. (Estimates vary on how many of those deaths resulted from friendly fire.) The military deaths, by comparison, were 2,402, and 1,247 wounded. Although there were 82 Army and 42 Navy nurses present that day, all the women (and children) casualties were civilians. One nurse, Annie Fox, later received a Bronze Star for bravery.

According to one site, those civilians include:

EWA BEACH: Yaeko Lillian Oda, age 6. HONOLULU: Nancy Masako Arakaki, age 8, Matilda Kaliko Faufata, age 12, Emma Gonsalves, age 34, Shirley Kinue Hirasaki, age 2, Janet Yumiko Ohta, age 3 months, Hiyako Ohta, age 19, Barbara June Ornellas, age 8, Gertrude Ornellas, age 16, Alice White, age 42, Eunice Wilson, age 7 months. PEARL CITY: Rowena Kamohaulani Foster, age 3. (There may have been one or two others, Japanese feminine names sometimes are difficult to differentiate from the masculine.)

Poster character Rosie the Riveter is more famous, and there are some nice photographs of real-life Rosies working, posing, smiling at the camera, but personally, I like this photograph of women fighting a fire at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It reminds me of the iconic (and beautiful) Iwo Jima picture.

During the feminist protests of the 1970s, the counter-protest cry was “Where were you on Iwo Jima?” The answer, we now know after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was: We would have been right there with you, if you’d only let us.

Americans killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars number 5,817 as of Dec. 6, 2010. About 2.4 percent were women. No doubt we will see that ratio increase in the future.

[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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