Remembering Pearl Harbor

7 December 2018

On Sunday, 7 December 1941, seventy-seven years ago today, the deadliest war in recorded human history reached the United States. Early that morning, a squad of aircraft from the Imperial Japanese Navy struck the United States Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. As the debris and smoke settled, almost 2,400 American service members lay dead, and every battleship in the United States’s Pacific Fleet had been sunk or disabled. The attacks stunned the American people. Thousands of miles away, South Dakotans also felt the impact of the Pearl Harbor attack as the nation now marched toward war.

Throughout the pages of South Dakota History, historians have chronicled the experiences of military personnel, Japanese Americans, and other everyday people who lived through Pearl Harbor and its repercussions. In his article “Journey to Timor” (vol. 22, no. 3), Robert G. Webb notes that nearly one thousand men of the South Dakota National Guard’s 147th Field Artillery Regiment made a brief stop at Pearl Harbor from 27 to 30 November 1941 as they traveled to the Philippines aboard the army transport ship Willard A. Holbrook. Six days after the 7 December attacks, the ship’s crew received orders to redirect the transport to Australia in preparation for combat. Though they had escaped the December bombing, the men soon entered the chaos of the Pacific Theater.

On the home front, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States Congress declared war on the Japanese Empire on 8 December. After this announcement, South Dakotans mobilized in support of the war effort. Crystal J. Gamradt highlights the actions of South Dakota State College students and faculty in her article “Adapting to Serve” (vol. 36, no. 1). Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the school’s administration offered the campus as a military training facility. Professors who remained stateside worked on methods of food preservation to alleviate problems of civilian rationing. Robert F. Karolevitz’s “Life on the Home Front” (vol. 19, no. 3) illustrates how individual civilians contributed. Many joined the Red Cross, held war-bond rallies, and planted victory gardens. In one instance, twenty-six students from Esmond School in Kingsbury County gathered twelve tons of scrap iron.

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Not all experiences of South Dakota residents were positive. State officials, Karolevitz writes, placed a Japanese cook working in Pierre under police surveillance because he had visited Japan the year before. In Yankton, Hachiro Yuasa, a visiting professor at Yankton College, resigned from his position to avoid suspicion. He also penned a letter of apology for Japan’s actions. Thousands of Japanese and German families and descendants struggled as both the state and federal government questioned their alliances and patriotism.

Today, we remember all those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor and those who lived through the resulting war. Readers can find more articles from South Dakota History describing this time by going through our back issues.

Mike Burns


Image at the top is of he USS Arizona as it sits ablaze along Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor Naval Base shortly after receiving terminal damage that caused it to sink. Library of Congress.