Friday, December 25, 2009

Pearl Harbor Attack

At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, a Japanese force of 183 airplanes attacked U.S. military and naval facilities on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands without warning. For 30 minutes, dive bombers, level bombers and torpedo planes struck airfields and naval vessels. After a 15-minute lull, a second wave of 170 planes launched another attack at 8:40 a.m. that lasted an hour. Casualties to U.S. service personnel were 2,343 killed, 960 missing and 1,272 wounded; Japanese aircraft destroyed 151 U.S. planes on the ground and sank or damaged all eight U.S. battleships at anchor in Pearl Harbor. At a cost of only 28 airplanes shot down, the Japanese had dealt the United States a staggering blow.

On Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Germany and Italy in turn declared war on the United States on Dec. 11. The United States then declared war on those two Axis partners of Japan.

Photo copied from museum's website

Opposition to the Japanese attack was scattered and disorganized. Army personnel shot at Japanese aircraft with everything from antiaircraft guns to pistols. One of the few pilots who managed to engage enemy aircraft was 2nd Lt. Philip M. Rasmussen of the 46th Pursuit Squadron. He had just arisen when the attack began. Still wearing his pajamas, Rasmussen sped toward the flight line.

At the flight line, all of the aircraft were destroyed or burning except for a few P-36 Hawks. Rasmussen jumped in one and taxied to a revetment at the edge of the airfield, where he joined three other pilots also preparing undamaged P-36 fighters. The pilots took off under fire, and were directed by radio toward Kaneohe Bay where they engaged 11 Japanese fighters in battle.

After shooting down one Japanese aircraft, Rasmussen was attacked by two Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters. Gunfire and 20mm cannon shells shattered the canopy, destroyed the radio and severed the P-36's hydraulic lines and rudder cable. Rasmussen sought refuge in nearby cloud cover and began flying back toward Wheeler Field. He landed the P-36 without brakes, rudder or tailwheel, and with more than 500 bullet holes.

For his actions, Rasmussen received the Silver Star. He survived the war, shooting down a second Japanese aircraft in 1943. He retired from the Air Force in 1965.

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