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Fifty Years Later, America Remembers the ‘Day That Hell Was in Session’

December 7, 1991

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) _ Fifty years after Japanese dive bombers screamed into Pearl Harbor, America today remembered the attack that killed 2,403 people and thrust a once- reluctant United States into World War II.

President Bush arrived in Hawaii Friday for a speech today at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, a remembrance ceremony on the USS Arizona Memorial and an address to World War II veterans at a Pearl Harbor pier.

The president’s visit culminates months of ceremonies here and elsewhere combined with soul-searching on both sides of the Pacific - by Japan for the sneaky nature of the Pearl Harbor attack, and by America for the internment of Japanese-Americans in the United States and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

″If possible, the U.S. should apologize and at the same time we should apologize about Pearl Harbor,″ said Toshihiko Hatakeyama, a Japanese high school student visiting the USS Arizona Memorial museum.

The 50th anniversary also comes as Japan stands as a world economic power, an ascendance praised by some as the successful result of a nation stripped of its militancy but condemned by others who say Japan has waged - and this time won - another world war.

The Pearl Harbor attack spurred the reshaping of America and the world, and many of the thousands of Pearl Harbor survivors say the experience is as vidid today as it was 50 years ago.

Pearl Harbor was just awakening the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers and fighter planes cut through the clouds and swooped over the mountains to wreck havoc on American ships and war planes, lined up in the open like sitting ducks.

″Atarimashita 3/8″ - ″It struck 3/8″ Japanese pilots said as their torpedoes and bombs smashed into battleships, triggering explosions that sent thick black smoke thousands of feet high.

Navy Capt. Donald K. Ross, then a machinist aboard the battleship Nevada, summed the morning up this way: ″The day that hell was in session.″

The attack began at 7:53 a.m. and lasted about two hours with two waves of air assaults. The Japanese also hit Wheeler, Bellows and Hickam fields, Ewa Marine Corps Station and Kaneohe Naval Air Station.

When it was over, nine battleships - the USS Tennessee, California, Maryland, West Virgina, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Utah and Nevada - were either sunk or badly damaged.

The Pearl Harbor dead totaled 2,403 (although some sources put the tally at one fatality higher). On the USS Arizona, 1,177 were killed, and many remain entombed in the rusted vessel on the harbor floor beneath a white memorial.

Henry D. Davison, an officer of the deck of the USS Arizona, recalled, ″We were rapidly being roasted in the most intense and painful heat I have ever experienced.″

At the time of the attack, no war had been declared between the United States and Japan, although tensions had mounted over Japan’s occupation of China and its alliance with warring Germany.

Though intended to break America’s spirit, the invasion jolted the United States out of isolationism and flung it into World War II.

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