By CDR Byron (Jug) Varner, U.S. Navy (RET)

Ask any American who was alive and of age on December 7, 1941, what he or she was doing when they heard the news about Japan's sneak attack against Pearl Harbor. They can remember every vivid detail of that particular day and the tragedy that altered the lives of every American.

Few of them had any idea what or where Pearl Harbor was and even fewer had ever visited the Hawaiian Islands, then a U. S. territory.

In less than two hours the Japanese crippled the main force of the U. S. Fleet, sinking or badly damaging seven battleships, three cruisers, two destroyers and four auxiliary vessels. They also eliminated the island's air defenses, destroying 347 aircraft - most of them on the ground. A total of 2,403 sailors, soldiers, marines and civilians were killed and 1,178 were wounded.

Amid the twisted wreckage of burning ships, wounded personnel and unrecognizable corpses, came the sudden realization of how woefully unprepared the country was for war.

On the following day, a fearful population listened intently to a nationwide radio broadcast of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to a joint session of Congress, when he said, in part:

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The president described the loss of American lives and terrible damage at Pearl Harbor, and reported that the Japanese also had attacked Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, Wake and Midway.

“Hostilities exist,” he said. “I ask that Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire. We will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.”

December 7, 1991 marks the 50th anniversary of that date which will live in infamy. Huge crowds are expected to be on hand to honor those dead heroes, some of whom are still entombed inside the hull of the sunken USS Arizona, and to reverently celebrate Roosevelt's prophetic inevitable triumph that he did not live to see.

The National Park Service and the Navy conducts regular tours of the USS Arizona Memorial, and Pearl Harbor. Shuttle boats leave the visitor's center on 15-minute intervals throughout daylight hours, following a brief film presentation about Pearl Harbor.

Special Events in December include:

Dec. 4 - Hawaiian Remembrance Day honors civilians killed during the attack.

Dec. 5 - Survivors Day.

Dec. 6 - Reflections Day. Special speakers.

Dec. 7 - Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies on board the USS Arizona by special invitation only. Others can view it on TV monitors at the Visitors Center. During the first three days, 100 seats of each shuttle boat will be allocated for survivors and relatives of those who died in the attack. The shuttles will not run on December 7th.