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Steve Lunetta: A day that will live in infamy

Right About Now

Posted: December 6, 2009 10:23 p.m.
Updated: December 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
A day that will live in infamy

“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget — lest we forget!”

— Rudyard Kipling, Recessional, 1897

The drone of the Mitsubishi Sakae 14-cylinder radial engine was hypnotic on the tired mind of Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida. The only thing keeping him awake in the cockpit of his aircraft was the expectation of the morning’s activities.

His aircraft, a Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 Model 3 torpedo bomber, known as a “Kate” to American military men, was one of the most advanced of its day.

Carrying a torpedo that was specially adapted to shallow waters, the Kate was the perfect instrument for destroying ships moored in a bay.

Fuchida reflected on his long hours of training and the months of planning that went into the operation in which he was now engaged.

The Imperial Navy knew a masterstroke against the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor might well cause the weak and crippled American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to immediately sue for peace.

This would free the Empire to consolidate its interests in the Far East and secure raw materials such as oil and iron, which were so desperately short in the Homeland.

Fuchida’s career as a pilot began when he discovered a love of flying at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in Hiroshima in 1921.

His brilliance in the field of horizontal bombing earned him a position as an instructor. After a successful tour of duty in China in the 1930s, Fuchida found himself as flight commander on the aircraft carrier Akagi.

The morning had started early for Fuchida. Up at 0300, he had reviewed the final plans for the attack, checked weather reports, spoken to his men and finally checked on the status of his plane. All was in order for the launch at 0600.

Once airborne, all 183 aircraft under his command were under strict radio silence. The slightest error could give away the entire operation and would result in failure.

Fuchida realized the Americans were not under similar restrictions. His attacking force was following the radio broadcasts from Honolulu as a homing beacon for his aerial force.

At 0720, the formation flew along the east coast of Oahu, then banked west for the final approach to the target.

Seeing no resistance rising to meet him, Fuchida assumed the American radar installations were malfunctioning.

In fact, the radar did pick up the aircraft and the soldiers manning the station had notified their superior officer who ignored the warning by assuming it was an expected flight of bombers coming from California.

It would be one of many serious errors committed by the United States on that fateful day.

At 0740, Fuchida could see Pearl Harbor looming before him. Sunday morning was just breaking over the U.S. military installation with many soldiers still asleep in their bunks. All was quiet in the harbor and Fuchida realized complete surprise had been obtained.

Sliding back the canopy on his Kate, Fuchida fired a single green flare into the air — the signal for “attack.”

He ordered his radio operator, Petty Officer 1st Class Norinobu Mizuki, to signal the fleet with the famous call sign “Tora, Tora, Tora” that the attack had commenced.

Two hours later, 2,402 United States sailors and soldiers were dead while 1,282 lay wounded. Up until Sept. 11, 2001, it was the greatest loss of American lives due to a foreign action in our nation’s history.

The heart of the American Pacific Fleet was damaged or lying at the bottom of Pearl Harbor with four battleships sunk and four severely damaged. Seven other ships were also sunk or damaged along with the loss of 188 aircraft, most sitting on the ground.

However, in the carnage of defeat rested the seeds of future victory.

The American aircraft carriers Enterprise and Lexington, were not in port that day. The escape of these two ships was to prove pivotal in the defeat of Japan at the Battle of Midway a few months later.

So what does Pearl Harbor and the remembrance of Dec. 7 teach us today?

Pearl Harbor is a testament against the policy of isolationism. America was asleep and not cognizant of the obvious threat that was growing.

If Americans step away from the world stage and allow tyrants and villains to flourish, more disasters lie in store. Vigilance and a refusal to let evil grow unchecked safeguards American interests and ultimately, the American people.

Lest we forget — lest we forget!

Steve Lunetta is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Right About Now” runs Mondays in The Signal.


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