Saturday, December 7, 2019

FDR on Pearl Harbor: "A date which will live in infamy"

By Michelle Shocklee

Aerial view of Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, the United States of America was attacked by the Empire of Japan at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

It's hard to imagine, isn't it? Japan attacking America. I didn't have a loved one in Pearl Harbor, but my dad was a young man and joined the Air Force shortly afterwards. He served as a Turret Gunner on B-17's over Europe, flying fifty missions and witnessing things he never wanted to talk about. I'm awfully proud of him and all the other brave men and women who answered the call to arms after that terrible day in Hawaii.

One thing that took place the day after the attack, on December 8, 1941, has long been of interest to me.

FDR's speech.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served in office from 1933 until his death in 1945. He directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Prior to being elected president, he served as a senator for the state of New York, governor of New York, and was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.

In 1921, FDR contracted a paralytic illness, believed at the time to be polio, and his legs became permanently paralyzed.

By 1941, with his recent re-election to a third term in office, FDR was determined to keep the United States out of war. He gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China, the United Kingdom, and eventually the Soviet Union, but kept the U.S. officially neutral despite Prime Minister Winston Churchill's urging for the U.S. to declare war on Germany.

All of that changed on December 7, 1941.

A first draft of the speech with FDR's changes
Incensed by FDR's support of China and his oil embargo against Japan, Japanese leaders began formulating an attack against the United States. The horrific events at Pearl Harbor was the result, where 2,403 American servicemen and civilians died. The president took to the airwaves the next day, giving a speech before Congress that lasted a little over seven minutes but would go down in history as one of the most important speeches of all time.

"Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives:Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

I can't imagine listening to this news, huddled around a radio with my family.

He went on to say, "The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu."

The last lines of his speech give me chills.

"Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God. I ask that the 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."

FDR signing the declaration of war against Japan.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Your turn: Did any of your family members serve in WWII? Tell me about them!

                                                                                                           Michelle Shocklee is the award-winning author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill, historical sagas set on a Texas cotton plantation before and after the Civil War. Her NEW historical time-slip novel set in Nashville will release in September 2020 from Tyndale Publishers Inc. STAY TUNED!  Michelle and her husband of 32 years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at


Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?

1 comment:

  1. My father's only brother was killed in WWII. I never remember the details. I would say we do, in this day and age, know a bit about the horror of those radio broadcasts when we heard of 9-11.