On December 6, 1941, twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses left Hamilton Field, north of San Francisco, bound for their new station on Mindanao in the Philippines. My great-uncle, Roderick M. Stewart, was a second lieutenant with one of the crews.
The first leg of their journey would take them to Hickam Field in Honolulu. Weighted down by gasoline for the thirteen-hour flight, they were unable to carry ammunition. But why would they need it? The United States of America was at peace.
When the B-17s neared Hawaii the next morning, they were pleased to see fighter planes approach – to escort them to the landing field, they assumed. Can you imagine their shock when the fighters opened fire on them? When the fighters careened past and the Americans saw the red circles on the planes? Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros. The United States of America was no longer at peace.
The twelve unarmed bombers dodged both enemy bullets and friendly antiaircraft shells and landed where they could on fields cratered by bombs. Eight of them landed at Hickam Field, two at Haleiwa Field, one at Bellows Field, and one put down on Kahuku Golf Course. One of the planes was destroyed, and three were damaged. Six men were wounded, and one man was killed.
Lt. Rod Stewart emerged unscathed, served illustriously in the Army Air Force, and went on to live a long life. However, over 2400 Americans lost their lives that day.
The horrific results of “The Day Which Will Live in Infamy” still shock us, as they should. The cost of unpreparedness must never be forgotten. We commemorate those who gave their lives for their country, not even knowing that country was at war, and give thanks for the millions who fought to end that war. Never take freedom for granted.