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A Date Which Will Live in Infamy


December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” In the mind of every American, those words will never lose their meaning. It is impossible to forget that fateful day 76 years ago when our nation “was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The assault against the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor resulted in the deaths of 2,400 Americans. Another 1,200 were wounded. On top of it all, the Pacific Fleet suffered permanent loss or catastrophic damage to its battleships, destroyers, and other ships. The unsettling day was filled with tragedy, but in the midst of the chaos, heroes emerged.

15 sailors earned the United States military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor for their actions at Pearl Harbor. Among these selfless individuals was Seaman First Class James R. Ward. The 20-year-old sailor was serving aboard the battleship Oklahoma at the time of the attack. As the ship was capsizing and ordered to be abandoned, Ward remained in his darkened gun turret, holding a flashlight to guide his shipmates to safety. In doing so, he sacrificed his life. Ward was one of the 400 sailors who were trapped and died aboard the Oklahoma.

Seaman First Class James Richard Ward. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Including Ward, 10 of the 15 sailors who earned the Medal of Honor for their actions at Pearl Harbor were presented the decoration posthumously. In the face of utter devastation, these men, among many others, showed that regardless of the circumstances, Americans fight and guide the way for each other until the very end.

We will never forget the heroes that lost their lives at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To America, and those watching us around the world, it will always be “a date which will live in infamy.”


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