December 7, 1941--A Day that Lives in Infamy

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The Library of Congress is instrumental in collecting memories of Americans who experienced it.

To past generation, December 7, 1941,  is a day that will live in infamy, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told radio audiences.  More than 2400 Americans were killed that day.

The attack on Pearl Harbor (called Hawaii Operation by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters) was, of course, a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941 (December 8 in Japan).

The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States.

The base was attacked by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. Of these eight damaged, two were raised, and with four repaired, six battleships returned to service later in the war.

The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. Important base installations such as the power station, shipyard, maintenance and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.

The attack led directly to the American entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day (December 8), the United States declared war on Japan. Domestic support for non-interventionism, which had been strong, disappeared. Subsequent operations by the U.S. prompted Germany and Italy to declare war on the U.S. on December 11, which was reciprocated by the U.S. the same day.

There were numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action by Japan. However, the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations were still apparently ongoing, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy."

On December 8, 1941 (the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), Alan Lomax, then "assistant in charge" of the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center), sent a telegram to fieldworkers in ten different localities across the United States, asking them to collect "man-on-the-street" reactions of ordinary Americans to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States.

The result, the Library of Congress' After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor presents approximately twelve hours of opinions recorded in the days and months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor from more than two hundred individuals in cities and towns across the United States.

A second series of interviews, called "Dear Mr. President," was recorded in January and February 1942. Both collections are included in this presentation. They feature a wide diversity of opinion concerning the war and other social and political issues of the day, such as racial prejudice and labor disputes. The result is a portrait of everyday life in America as the United States entered World War II.

This online presentation of After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor also includes an essay on preseving the recordings, "Making and Maintaining the Original Recordings," as well as biographies of the fieldworkers who conducted and arranged the interviews, complete transcripts of the interviews, related manuscripts and original disc sleeves. The presentation was made possible with the support of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the New Deal Network.

In addition, the  Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center is an oral history program that collects first-person accounts of military service in World War I, World War II, the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. VHP also collects stories of civilians who supported their efforts, including men and women who worked in defense-related industries, and as USO entertainers and Red Cross workers.

VHP relies on volunteers, both individuals and organizations, throughout the nation to contribute veterans’ stories to VHP.  In addition to audio- and video-recorded interviews, VHP accepts memoirs, collections of original photographs and letters, diaries, maps, and other historical documents from World War I through current conflicts.

The United States Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000. In April 2007, the Library of Congress and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) announced a joint community engagement initiative in conjunction with the broadcast of Ken Burns’ film, The War, which reiterated the Library of Congress’ message to the American people to help build the historic record by interviewing a veteran in your family or community.

A participant in the project may be a veteran, an interviewer, or person donating a veteran’s collection). Students in the 10th grade and above may also participate and there are special resources for educators and students.

The Veterans History Project is ongoing, and there is no deadline.

To participate, visit this website: 

“THE WAR/Veterans History Project Field Guide to Conducting and Preserving Interviews” (PDF) 
Includes information on how to send your collection to Veterans History Project, including a list of what VHP can and cannot accept and the necessary forms for submitting content.  Also included are tips on conducting an interview and doing research at the National Archives.

Watch a video clip from Ken Burns on conducting interviews 

National WWII Memorial Registry of Remembrance  is “an individual listing of Americans who contributed to the war effort.”  It is maintained by the American Battle Monument Commission as a part of the National World War II Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.



1. Article illustration:
U.S. Navy battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) beached and burning at 0925 hrs on 7 December 1941 after being hit forward by Japanese bombs and torpedoes.

2. Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Damage to the forecastle deck of USS Nevada (BB-36), caused by the explosion of a Japanese bomb below decks. 

3. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, (Dec. 7, 2002) -- Pearl Harbor attack survivor Manual H. Magdaleno arrives at the USS Arizona Memorial to attend the Annual Dec. 7th Commemoration Ceremony.

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