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  • Writer's pictureEldon Callaway

The attack on Pearl Harbor

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Photo of Pearl Harbor during attack.

December 7, 1941. Young and old alike learn what happened on this day in United States history. It was this day that brought the United States into the second World War. Though many know what happened with the ships in the harbor, I would like to center some information on the land battle that also took place.

Airfields were the primary land targets of the Japanese forces at Pearl Harbor. Those airfields at the top of the list included: Wheeler Army Airfield, Hickam Field, and Ford Island. Secondary targets for the attack were: Bellows Air Force Base, Kanoehe Naval Air Station, and Ewa Marine Corps Station. By attacking the airfields hard, the Japanese forces would cripple United States' ability to retaliate, and making the attacks on the ships that much easier.

Wheeler Army Airfield with Curtiss P-40's ablaze.

Though most of the planes at the airfields were destroyed, Wheeler Airfield (above) was able to get 12 of its pilots from the 15th Pursuit Group off the ground and engage in combat. The planes were a mix of P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks.

Rasmussen next to his damaged P-36

One noteworthy pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Phil Rasmussen, managed to find an old and unscathed Curtiss P-36 Hawk, taxied it to a revetment (a barricade set up to provide protection from blasts or overrunning when landing), and loaded the Hawk with ammunition. Rasmussen and three other pilots then took off during a lull in the bombing to engage the enemy. Rasmussen shot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, and the pilots were able to engage eleven of the Japanese aircraft.

Wheeler Airfield Aftermath.

Casualties at Wheeler Airfield alone were 33 killed, 75 wounded. The Hawaiian Air Force had 146 planes in commission before the attack of the 233 total assigned. After the attack, only 83 were in commission, 76 having been completely destroyed.

The installation at Wheeler has a National Historic Landmark District in association with the attack on 7 December, 1941. The Flightline, hangars, and barracks of 1941 survive to this day.

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