An Infamous Day

On December 8th, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the Congress of the United States with the following declaration: “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.” This undeclared attack on military installations in Hawaii, particularly Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, left 2,403 American servicemembers dead, 160 aircraft destroyed, 21 vessels sunk or damaged and plunged the United States into World War II.

While the United States committed all of its tremendous resources toward first stopping and then defeating Japan and its allies, the U.S. government was also investigating the circumstances of the attack on Hawaii, and in particular how the U.S. military was caught so completely unawares.

U.S.S. Arizona after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. Photo Files, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The presidentially appointed Roberts Commission which investigated the attack on Hawaii focused most of its attention on the two officers who were commanding U.S. forces on that tragic day, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short. Ten days after the attack, both men were removed from command and the commission later found both commanders guilty of “dereliction of duty.” Since this was a commission and not a court-martial, neither man could appeal the conclusion.

Both Kimmel and Short argued that vital information had been withheld from them by their superiors and that, had they been more fully informed, their forces would have been in a better state of readiness for the attack. Admiral Kimmel went on to present his case to the American public in his book Admiral Kimmel’s Story which was published in January of 1954.

Husband E. Kimmel, Time Magazine Cover, December 15, 1941.
(Army and Navy Club Library Trust collection)

A 1995 Pentagon study concluded that the blame for the failures of Pearl Harbor went far beyond Kimmel and Short. In response, in 1998 (30 years after Kimmel’s death, and 49 years after Short’s death) a group of senators, including current U.S. President Joe Biden, proposed a non-binding resolution to clear Kimmel and Short. One of the measure’s supporters, World War II veteran Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), called them “the two final victims of Pearl Harbor.”

The American Heritage Center proudly counts the personal papers of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel amongst its holdings. Anyone interested in the circumstances of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, or studying World War II in general, is welcome to examine the contents to learn more about this dark and bloody moment in U.S. military history.

Post contributed by AHC Assistant Director and Collections Manager Bill Hopkins.


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