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Pearl Harbor: 75 Years Ago - December 7, 1941

USS Oklahoma Memorial, Dec. 7, 2012, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Dasbach. Public domain.

It is hard to begin a column on an event that has so much historical significance for our country. It also is an event that every American of school age or older knows at least something about. I was fortunate enough to visit Hawaii many years ago and still remember the feeling I had when I visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. To try to bring "everyday life" to the humans that were part of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I went to one of my favorite books, which I have used a couple of times in writing Bugler articles, The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects, by Richard Kurin. He documents six items from the era deemed the "Greatest Generation." These six objects are a plane, Spirit of Tuskegee, a "We Can Do It!" poster of Rosie the Riveter, art from a Japanese American internment camp, Audie Murphy's Eisenhower jacket, the Enola Gay, and as a way to document Pearl Harbor, he describes the postal hand stamps that were recovered from the U.S.S. Oklahoma.

The U.S.S. Oklahoma was one of the eight battleships in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. The U.S.S. California, the U.S.S. West Virginia, the U.S.S. Maryland, the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, the U.S.S. Tennessee and the U.S.S. Nevada were also in the harbor and each of them sustained serious damage. The battleship, the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Utah, a target ship, were sunk. The U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Utah remain on the seabed in the harbor. The U.S.S. Arizona "marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the USS Arizona during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor" (Wikipedia.com). The wreck of the U.S.S. Utah is also the burial memorial for the 64 men who died when this battleship sunk. Four hundred twenty-nine members of the crew of the U.S.S. Oklahoma died that day. The battleship was raised but sunk as it was being towed to San Francisco.

A postal hand stamp seems innocuous in this day and age but, up until probably fifteen years ago, the primary way you communicated with people was through the postal system. People didn't routinely make long distance phone calls, and texting and emailing were a thing of the future. People wrote letters. All the battleships would therefore have had a post office where mail call would have been a very exciting event. Today most letters are cancelled by a machine. In the 1940s most letters were hand cancelled, especially on a battleship. The daily task of a postal clerk was changing the date on the hand stamps. The clerks did not have time to change the date of the hand stamps that were recovered from the U.S.S. Oklahoma - they still say December 6, 1941. The writer of History of America tells the story: "Some of these letters were probably the last letters that some families received from their service members, a powerful reminder of the role that mail played during war time. On the next day, the bombing prevented any more of the usual work - the changing of the dyes in these hand stamps and processing of the mail; instead it brought a life-and-death struggle that thrust the United States into World War II." See PostalMuseum.si.edu to see images of the handstamps and learn more.

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

A solemn anniversary date - December 7, 1941 - 75 years ago, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, home port of America's Pacific fleet was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The event brought the United States into World War II. National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day commemorates and remembers the more than 2,000 Americans killed and more than 1,000 injured in that surprise attack.

The U.S. flag should be flown at half-staff till sunset. When flying the flag at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the top of the staff for an instant, then lowered to the mid-way point of the staff (half-staff). It should be raised to the top of the staff again before lowering the flag at the end of the day.

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