We Will Always Remember Pearl Harbor
“May God make His face shine upon them and grant them peace.”
It was 79 years ago that President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress with these words:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
At 7:55 a.m. on that infamous Sunday morning, 354 Japanese airplanes approached Pearl Harbor from the northeast. By 9:45 a.m., 2,251 Americans were dead and 1,119 wounded; seven battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers were sunk or crippled and 188 aircraft were destroyed.
And so it was that the United States, whose patroness is the Blessed Mother, was catapulted into a war on the feast of the Immaculate Conception — a war that would last until Aug. 15, 1945, the feast of the Assumption, when the Japanese surrendered.
Churches were full. Novenas occurred every week in most churches. Young men went off to war and returned old men, and many didn’t return at all. Phrases such as “Remember Pearl Harbor,” “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” and “Is this trip necessary?” became part of the daily conversation.
Few remain living today who lived through it, but those who do are certain to tell you that they do, indeed, remember Pearl Harbor, for it is a day very few were able to forget.
Father Aloysius Schmitt
Dec. 7 was a special day for Father Aloysius Schmitt on the U.S.S. Oklahoma; it was the sixth anniversary of his ordination. He had just finished saying Mass when the Oklahoma received five torpedo hits in swift succession, “turned turtle,” and sunk, taking Father Schmitt and 57 other men with it. The Catholic Herald, the Honolulu diocesan newspaper, reported his death as “perhaps the first priest killed in World War II.”
A posthumous citation for bravery was presented to Father Schmitt’s family. Many of those who survived the Oklahoma told how Father Schmitt stepped aside and helped others escape out a small porthole, “Calmly urging them on with a pronouncement of his blessing,” reads the citation, “he remained behind while they crawled out to safety. With magnanimous courage and sacrifice … he gladly gave up his life for his country.”
This date in history conjures up memories of many who lived in my Diocese of Orange in Southern California. On the U.S.S. Helena, for example, 22-year-old Howard Nagel, who after the war became a long-time parishioner of Blessed Sacrament parish in Westminster, was preparing the deck for Mass to be celebrated by Father John P. Murphy. But the Helena took a direct hit instead.
Years later, Nagel converted to Catholicism and went for instruction at the Naval Station in San Diego. To his surprise, Father Murphy was there and gave him his instructions. In August 1953, Father Murphy married Nagel and his wife, Juliana.
C. John Popp
C. John Popp, a parishioner of Holy Family parish in Seal Beach, was sitting on the starboard side of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in dry dock, waiting for the newspapers from Honolulu to be delivered. Little did he know that he was about to witness an event that would be the next day’s headlines all over the world. A 500-pound bomb exploded through the starboard boat deck onto the main deck of the Pennsylvania.
“My first thoughts were that somebody’s going to catch hell. It just wouldn’t sink in,” said Popp. “There were three or four guys I was really close with who got killed that day. I miss them a lot.”
Barbara Gillilan Ramer
Barbara Gillilan Ramer of St. Norbert Parish in Orange was a 13-year-old living in Hawaii when the attack occurred. She and her mother were getting ready to go to Mass at St. Augustine Church at Waikiki when they heard the explosions and saw the black smoke coming from the harbor. Her father, Commander C.H. Gillilan, was on duty aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania.
“We didn’t know if my dad was alive or dead for two days,” said Ramer. “And, when he did come home, his usually immaculate uniform was dirty and torn. And his spirits were about as bad as his uniform.”
Today, visitors to Pearl Harbor can see the Arizona Memorial, a 184-foot-long white marble structure that spans the Arizona with her decks visible below the surface.
Taking a direct hit down her stack, the Arizona lies in two pieces at the bottom of Pearl Harbor with the 1,102 sailors and Marines who went down with her. An eyewitness to the Arizona’s destruction said it was as if you took a large firecracker and snapped it in half.
There is a flagpole that stands over the Arizona’s mainmast. Engraved on a bronze plaque at the base of the pole are the words, “May God make His face shine upon them and grant them peace.” Amen.