Friday, December 7, 2018

“A Day that will Live in Infamy”

In one of the 20th centuries most memorable and impactful speeches, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the previous day, December 7, 1941, “A day that will live in infamy” due to the deadly surprise attack on US. Naval forces in Pearl Harbor, HI by the Japanese Air Force. The president’s speech to a joint session of Congress, led to a Congressional declaration of war against Japan, and eventually, its ally, Germany.

The surprise attack on a Sunday morning left 2,403 dead, and 1,282 wounded. The bombardment resulted in 188 destroyed aircraft and caused the sinking of 21 naval vessels. Of the 2,403 who lost their lives that day, 2,335 men were military personnel and 68 were civilians. The breakdown of the military casualties was as follows: 2008 naval servicemen, 109 marines, and 218 Army men. 1,177 of the casualties resulted from the sinking of the U.S.S. Arizona.

An article by Marla Cohen of the JCC Association highlights some valorous acts by Jewish seamen based at Pearl Harbor.

Ensign Nathan Asher, a 23-year-old junior officer, was at the helm of the Naval destroyer USS Blue when the attack occurred. Knowing the battleship USS Idaho had already been torpedoed, Asher ordered the crew to take the destroyer to the mouth of the harbor to protect the larger ships from Japanese submarines. Although he realized that it may have been a suicide mission, he felt, in his own words, “I didn’t have time to feel any fear.”

Ensign Stanley Caplan, 26, was on the destroyer, the Aylwin and saw the Japanese attack. He took the helm and steered the ship into the open sea and shot down three or four Japanese planes. Caplan received the Silver Star for his valor.

From the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 until Japan’s unconditional surrender in August, 1945, more than 550,000 Jews served in the U.S. armed forces. Sixty percent of all Jewish doctors under the age of 45, were in uniform during World War II. By the end of the war, 1,000 American Jewish servicemen had died in the service of their country and 40,000 sustained wounds. Two Jewish servicemen received the Congressional Medal of Honor, 157 received the Distinguished Service Medals and Crosses (including Navy Crosses) and 1,600 received the Silver Star.

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