May 24, 2001
Pearl Harbor Records at the National Archives
Washington, DC. . . At 7:55 a.m. December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and torpedo planes attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor attack brought the United States into World War II and gave Americans a personal stake in the war that propelled the nation to victory. The historical records of Congress housed in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. include some extraordinary documents that recall this turning point in American history, nearly 60 years ago. The major motion picture, "Pearl Harbor," has drawn on the historical record to recreate the fateful events of the day.
Among the records are a 31 ½" by 21 ¾" radar plotting chart on which Privates Joseph L. Lockard and George E. Elliot recorded some unusual activity. Lockard and Elliot were on duty for training at the recently opened Opana Mobile Radar Station located on the northern tip of Oahu. At 7:02 a.m., they noticed radar signals that indicated a large number of aircraft approaching the island from the north at a distance of 132 miles. They continued to track the approach of the aircraft until 7:39 when the radar signals were disrupted by back waves bouncing off nearby mountains. Their last sighting placed the approaching airplanes at 20 miles distance. Lockard and Elliot phoned the Information Center at Fort Shafter, located several miles east of Pearl Harbor, to report "a flight of some sort." The control officer on duty concluded that the signals they reported were either a naval patrol flight or American B-17s from California that were scheduled to arrive on the same day. Within minutes, they would all learn that the Japanese had mounted a surprise attack.
The Japanese attack lasted less than two hours but did enormous damage. The United States sustained 3,435 casualties and loss or severe damage to 188 aircraft, 8 battleships, 3 light cruisers, and 4 other vessels. Five photographs from the records of Congress capture dramatic and tragic moments of the attack. On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Japan. Pronouncing December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy," the president's edited, signed seven-page reading copy of the war message is a pivotal document in United States history. Immediately following the president's address, the Senate returned to its chamber, where Senator Tom Connally of Texas introduced Joint Senate Resolution 116 declaring war on Japan. The reproduction of the marked Senate desk copy of Joint Senate Resolution 116 indicates the dramatically swift action that a unanimous Senate took in declaring war. When the House of Representatives passed an identically worded joint resolution on the same afternoon, a united America entered World War II.
These and other original records at the National Archives relating to Pearl Harbor are available for filming or reproduction by the media. Please call the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 301-837-1700 for more information.