The following is an excerpt from A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight which is the story of Torpedo Squadron Eight at the Battle of Midway 4 June, 1942. It helps to set the scene for what happened six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor on this day in 1941. I’ll write more about that in a post in 4 June next year.
ENSIGN WILLIAM EVANS JR., AGE 23
PILOT, TORPEDO SQUADRON EIGHT
December 7, 1941
My dear family,
What a day—-the incredulousness of it all still each new announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack the unreality of a fairy tale. How can they have been so mad? Though I suppose we have all known it would come sometime, there was always that inner small voice whispering —- no, we are too big, too rich, too powerful, this war is for some poor fools somewhere else. It will never touch us here. And then this noon that world fell apart.
Today has been feverish, not with the excitement of emotional crowds cheering and bands, playing, but with the quiet conviction and determination of serious men settling down to the business of war. Everywhere little groups of officers listening to the radio, men hurrying in from liberty, quickly changing clothes, and reporting to battle stations. Scarcely and officer seemed to know why we were at war and it seemed to me there is a certain sadness for that reason. If the reports I’ve heard today are true, the Japanese have performed the impossible, have carried out one of the most daring and successful raids in all of history. They knew the setup perfectly —- got there on the one fatal day—-Sunday—-officers and men away for the weekend or recovering from Saturday night. The whole thing was brilliant. People will not realize, I fear, for some time how serious this matter is, the difference of labor and capital is an infectious virus and the public has come to think contemptuously of Japan. And I fear that is a fatal mistake. Today has given evidence of that. This war will be more difficult than any war this country has ever fought.
Tonight I put away all of my civilian clothes. I fear that the moths will find them good fare in the years to come. There is such a finality to wearing a uniform all of the time. It is the one thing I fear—-the loss of my individualism in a world of uniforms. But kings and puppets alike are being moved now by the master—-destiny.
It is growing late and tomorrow will undoubtedly be a busy one. Once more the whole world is afire—-in the period approaching Christmas it seems bitterly ironic to mouth again the timeworn phrases concerning peace on earth—-goodwill to men, with with so many millions hard at work figuring out ways to reduce millions to slavery or death. I find it hard to see the inherent difference between man and the rest of the animal kingdom. Faith lost—-all is lost. Let us hope tonight that people, all people throughout this great country, have the faith to once again sacrifice for the things we hold essential to life and happiness. Let us defend these principles to the last ounce of blood—-but then above all retain reason enough to have “charity for all and malice toward none.” If this world ever goes through this again—-mankind is doomed. This time it has to be a better world.
All my love,
I don’t know that, in all of my reading about the attack on Pearl Harbor, I have ever read a better description of the shock that America felt on that long distant December Sunday. America was violently and instantly shaken out of it’s pre war innocence and lethargy.
There was a threat to not only our nation, but all of the civilized people of the world along with others who had never heard of Japan or even America.
Millions of lives would be lost before the war ended in September of 1945. Millions more, including that of my father, who survived the war, would have the trajectory of their lives unalterably and permanently changed.
America and the rest of the world would never, ever, be the same.
Alas, Ensign Evans would not live to see the end of the war or the better world that he had hoped victory would bring. He, along with most of his fellow officers and sailors in Torpedo Eight would die during the first hours of the Battle of Midway.
The Navy would win a decisive victory at Midway and set the United States and it’s allies on a course that would bring victory, but victory at a great cost in the lives of young men who woke up on December 7 in a nation at peace, but went to bed in a nation about to play it’s part in fighting and winning the greatest war in the history of the planet.
Which is why we should pause today and remember that long ago day when America went to war.