James Leavelle was a 21-year old Navy Storekeeper Second Class on the day that Japanese aircraft swooped in to bomb Pearl Harbor. His ship, the USS Whitney, was hit with bullets, but did not sink. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said about the USS Arizona and others. In total, 2,400 people perished that day. FDR coined it, "a day which will live in infamy."
The attack took place at 7:55 a.m., on December 7, 1941, in Honolulu. Now, in 2016, there are fewer than 200 remaining survivors. In a massive memorial event today, 350 World War II veterans and their families will be at Pearl Harbor while the Navy's Pacific Fleet Band performs for them.
In case you've forgotten, that day was the beginning of America's entry into war. On December 8th, FDR delivered a formal declaration of war on Japan. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States had taken a passive role in the war effort, only secretly supporting the United Kingdom.
The goal of the attack was clear. Japan wanted to destroy the quantity of the American fleet, preventing the U.S. from interfering with Japan's Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia conquests. A year prior, Japan invaded French Indochina in an attempt to control supplies reaching China. The United States responded by stopping shipments of aircraft and parts to Japan to hinder their aggression into the Far East.
In the days leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack, there was an attempt at peace between Japan and the U.S., UK, and the Netherlands. But this peace was contingent on Japan evacuating all of China, which they didn't want to do. Not to mention the fact that Japan had already sent a fleet towards Hawaii for an attack.
The American battleships damaged or destroyed during Pearl Harbor included, Arizona, Oklahoma, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Maryland, and West Virginia. There were also three cruisers and three destroyers lost in the invasion.
Today, thousands visit the USS Arizona Memorial each year, honoring those who perished. The nearby USS Missouri is also a museum today.
Anyway, back to Mr. Leavelle. His story is especially incredible, because he was also the police officer who was handcuffed to President John F. Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, as he was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Leavelle has seen a lot more than any of us every will, so let's take the day to remember and celebrate their impact on society.