On Dec. 7, 1941, Army Air Corps Capt. Ray Swenson was flying toward Oahu and Pearl Harbor when he was shot down by a Japanese Zero fighter plane. One of his airmates described it as “the most realistic drill we’ve ever seen.”
Ensign J.R. McCarthy was also shot down, initially thinking the smoke his squadron saw rising from the harbor as they approached the island “was from workers burning the cane fields.”
Navy Capt. Willard Kitts accused one of his men of being drunk when told the harbor was under attack by the Japanese.
“These are three examples of those who were physically on the scene of the attack, but still could not comprehend Pearl Harbor as a target or that a people who valued peace and freedom as we do could attack another,” retired Navy Capt. James Bloom told a crowd Wednesday for the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Tribute at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg.
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“Surely what was unfolding before their eyes was a drill, or a mistake,” Bloom said.
Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy,” as Bloom drew parallels between the American public’s state of mind in 1941 and today.
Bloom spoke of the danger of complacency and assumptions that the rest of the world is just like us, asking why would anyone in the world who universally valued life and personal liberty attack us?
“Later in the war, we stood agape at suicidal Banzai charges or Kamikaze pilots who felt privileged to give their lives for their emperor,” he said, “just as today, we find equally incomprehensible the motivation of suicide bombers.”
Pearl Harbor is remembered for the selfless sacrifices of the U.S. servicemen and women, he said, but is also a lesson in ego-centrism and complacency.
“Let us never forget Pearl Harbor,” he said, “and let us never again be victims of the naive assumption that our values are universal.”
Remembering Pearl Harbor was also an opportunity for the museum to highlight the guns of the USS Pennsylvania — the two huge gun barrels that first greet those entering the museum parking lot.
The guns were mounted on the Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. This didn’t stop the crew of the battleship from firing on the attacking planes.
The ship would begin operations in 1942, steaming for more than 146,000 miles during the duration of the war and participating in operations off Kwajalein Island, Saipan, Guam, Okinawa and the Philippines. The Pennsylvania was decommissioned in 1946 and sunk off Kwajalein in 1948.
The guns were recovered and eventually made their way to Boalsburg.
“Coming out today for the event — having the guns... having the history right here — really does bring it home,” museum Director Tyler Gum said. “Not just in an esoteric ‘bringing it home to Pennsylvania,’ but for the next generation to learn our history and remember the folks that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”