North Andover — Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of a turning point in American history, a day of enormous shock and tragedy that must always remain strong in our national memory.
One of the greatest military disasters ever to befall our country occurred on the sleepy Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941. In a surprise aerial attack, the Japanese Imperial Navy struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet as it lay moored in Honolulu's Pearl Harbor. In the course of three hours, nearly every American battleship would be sunk or damaged, hundreds of American planes destroyed, and thousands of servicemen killed or wounded.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a speech given the day after the sneak attack, famously declared Dec. 7 as "a date which will live in infamy." Perhaps more importantly, he expressed his confidence in the will of the nation to respond.
"No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory," he told a stunned and angry nation. "With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God."
His words would be severely tested. Two days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. With America weakened, Japan would go on a campaign of brutal conquest across the Pacific. And in Europe and North Africa, Nazi Germany's grip would grow stronger in the months after Pearl Harbor, as the allies struggled to stop Hitler's armies.
In the months after Pearl Harbor, America reeled from a string of stinging defeats at the hands of the Japanese. But almost six months to the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States Navy scored a surprise victory over Japan that would change the course of the Pacific war. Outnumbered and outgunned, young Navy pilots surprised a large Japanese fleet that intended to take Midway Island - a small atoll well within the American sphere of influence in the Pacific. In the course of a couple hours, Navy airmen destroyed the cream of the Japanese fleet. From that point on, Japan would fight a grim and bloody war of retreat.