Tuesday marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and by extension the United States' entry into World War II over the following days. Commemorations are happening around the Bay Area, which is also home to a handful of the remaining survivors of the attack.
That "day that will live in infamy" happened on a Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. BuzzFeed has a series of photographs from the aftermath, showing flames and smoke rising from the massive Navy battleships that were torpedoed or bombed that day. The USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS Nevada were all heavily damaged that day, and more than 2,400 Americans were killed, including over 1,000 civilians. The wreckage of the USS Arizona and USS Utah remain at the bottom of the harbor, with some of the dead still entombed there, while the rest of the ships were ultimately repaired and put back into use. Nearly half, or 1,177 of the dead were aboard the Arizona.
A few dozen of the estimated 50 to 70 living survivors of the attack gathered in Oahu today to mark the 80th anniversary. One of those was 99-year-old Herb Elfring, who was assigned to the 251st Coast Artillery, part of the California National Guard, that December and recalls Japanese planes overhead and "bullets strafing his Army base at Camp Malakole" which was a few miles down the coast from Pearl Harbor.
"It was just plain good to get back and be able to participate in the remembrance of the day," Elfring tells the Associated Press, adding that he's been to about 10 of these memorial events over the years.
Here in the Bay Area, 102-year-old Warren Upton of San Jose recalls his harrowing escape from the sinking USS Utah, swimming to shore and helping a shipmate who couldn't swim. Upton is one of the last three living survivors of the USS Utah, which tipped over and sank that day.
"One thing I have to say is that war is hell," Upton tells the Mercury News.
"I try to look on the bright side," adds Upton, who also served in the Korean War. "And remember that bad things do happen."
Upton was attending a brunch Tuesday with some fellow Pearl Harbor survivors in Cupertino. And while the Navy offers a burial at sea — with an urn placed atop the wreckage of one of the sunken ships in Pearl Harbor — to those who survived the attack on one of those ships, Upton says he has no interest. "I got off there once," he tells the Mercury News. "I’m not going back."
At the California State University campus in Concord, a ceremony was being held Tuesday to remember Pearl Harbor, as they do every year. The campus is home to a Pacific War Exhibit, and in 2020, the U.S. Navy gifted a piece of the USS Arizona to the school in recognition of its annual memorials.
On the anniversary last year, the East Bay Times profiled three Pearl Harbor survivors, Michael “Mickey” Ganitch and Clarence Byal of San Leandro, and Earl “Chuck” Kohler of Concord.
Ganitch, 102, retells the story that he was suited up to play a football game that day, the so-called "Super Bowl of the Navy," which his team from the dry-docked USS Pennsylvania would be playing against the USS Arizona.
"I had my [football] gear on me throughout the attack, they couldn’t hurt me," Ganitch told the East Bay Times. "We never played the game. We had things to do, like fighting a war."
And he says he spent part of the morning up in the crow's nest of the ship, reporting on the action. "I had a bird’s eye view. I was higher than the main deck of the ship. I was higher up than some of the planes that were flying around there. Kinda scary," Ganitch said. He also remembers the oil slick catching fire on the harbor, surrounding them with intense heat.
While most of those aboard the drydocked ship survived, Japanese bombers still hit the Pennsylvania with a 500-pound bomb, which Ganitch says missed him by 45 feet.
The Chronicle's Carl Nolte described, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary, how the attack on Pearl Harbor transformed the Bay Area permanently — both directly with the war effort and indirectly with mass industrialization and the growth of suburbs.
Roughly two-thirds of all Army soldiers who served in the Pacific passed through Fort Mason, many seeing San Francisco for the first time and heading to war via the Golden Gate. The bridge and the Bay became powerful symbols to many, and as one historian, Neil Morgan, wrote, "The veteran who had first seen California when in uniform was determined to have a piece of its future."
Thus California's population boomed after the war, and so did the Bay Area's. Our region had a population of under 2 million before the war, but following migration and the post-war boom, the Bay Area's population soared to over 3.5 million by 1960, and to 7.8 million today.
Top image: Burning and damaged ships at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Left to right are the USS West Virginia, the USS Tennessee and the USS Arizona. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)