The Japanese military had waged war in the Pacific since 1931. But throughout the 1930s, the United States remained at peace with Japan. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt moved the U.S. fleet to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to deter Japan from attacking. What happened later was to change history. VOA Chinese Branch Reporter Yi Suli interviewed some U.S. veterans of World War Two in the Pacific. Leta Hong Fincher narrates.
Early Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes carried out a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan. "Dec 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy…"
When the United States entered the war, 20-year-old Norman Hatch was a combat photographer for the Marine Corps. Two years later, he was sent to document the U.S. battle with Japan on the Pacific island of Tarawa.
"I was probably within about 30, 40 feet [10 – 12 meters] of the enemy in one shot,” recalled Mr. Hatch, “And I was able to catch the shot that was the only time--not only in the Pacific but I think in the European war--in the same frame of footage, I had in the foreground our own guys fighting and in the background I had the Japanese."
The Marine Corps film, called "With the Marines at Tarawa," later won an Academy Award for its vivid portrayal of the 1943 battle.
"It was a battle that lasted three days -- 76 hours -- on a piece of ground one-third the size of Central Park in New York,” Mr. Hatch remembered. “And in that short period of time, there were 6,000 people killed, and 2,000 wounded."
In February 1945, U.S. marines made their first landing on Japanese territory, at Iwo Jima. Norman Hatch was there to film it.
"If we thought Tarawa was bad, for the way the Japanese had dug themselves in, Iwo was the worst of them all," he said.
On the battle's fifth day, marines raised the U.S. flag at Mount Suribachi--an event immortalized by the famous photograph, and by Mr. Hatch's team of cameramen.
Mr. Hatch is still haunted by the carnage that he witnessed. He says the United States was justified in carrying out its nuclear attacks on Japan because he believes the Pacific war would otherwise have dragged on for years longer.
"There was no desire within the Japanese psyche to quit. And so we would have had to go through all of those islands that made up the mainland of Japan and fight."
Daniel Martinez is a historian at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. He says that for most Americans in the 1940s, the phrase "remember Pearl Harbor" was a cry for vengeance. But 60 years after the war's end, Mr. Martinez says that feeling of vengeance is gone. "Now 'remember Pearl Harbor' is a term of reverence, to remember the dead, to remember that this war was tragic for both sides."
Stephen Cromwell is a Pacific war veteran who still reveres the dead on both sides. He was a corpsman on the battleship USS Missouri when it was struck by a Japanese kamikaze suicide pilot in April 1945.
"I was able to recover his body and I called up to the bridge to ask if I should throw it overboard,” said Mr. Cromwell. “Captain Callaghan said, ‘No, when we secure, take it down to the sick bay, and we'll have a burial for him tomorrow.’ "
Mr. Cromwell says the captain of the USS Missouri, William Callaghan, was impressed by the kamikaze pilot's bravery and insisted on burying him with honors.
Several months later, aboard the same USS Missouri on September 2nd, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies.