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The real legacy of Pearl Harbor

Madera County Historical Society When this photograph was taken on Sept. 27, 1941, Conrad Shebulet, standing by the table in his showroom, had every reason to be optimistic. He and the rest of Madera had no way of knowing that in just a little more than two months, their lives would be turned upside down by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


December 7, 1941, “A day that will live in infamy!” That’s what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, and so did every other American, including those in Madera.

Before the attack, the day had been fairly routine. Ronald Reagan was starring in “The International Squadron,” which was showing at the new Madera Theater. The Methodist Church was planning a potluck supper, and Ocean Spray cranberry sauce was selling for 13 cents per can. Then came the shock that shook Madera and the rest of the country to its core.

Japan had been on the move in the Pacific for some time, and the United States had been gearing up to oppose that action. Negotiations were not going well, and it was generally conceded that an attack upon American interests in the far Pacific was imminent.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the expected attack came, but paradoxically most everyone was surprised. The target, instead of bases in the Far East, was Pearl Harbor. The enemy had attacked United States soil!

Maderans were numb, shocked, fearful, and angry. Local citizens mirrored the outrage and amazement of the entire nation. The town hardly knew how to react.

On Monday morning, Dec. 8, some downtown merchants requested their clerks not to talk war with their customers, while others turned up their radios to catch the latest developments.

Within a few short weeks, many Maderans were overseas laying their lives on the line to ensure that such a debacle as Pearl Harbor would never again be thrust upon our homeland. Little did they know that the attack on Pearl Harbor was not the last time the Japanese military would attack the United States.

The Land of the Rising Sun was not through with America yet. Within six months, the U.S. suffered another sneak attack on its territory and a subsequent humiliation, the likes of which had not been endured since the War of 1812.

Six months after inflicting heavy damage on America’s Pacific fleet, Japan, flushed with victory, turned its military eye to the north. Since it had already aroused the American population with its surprise raid on Pearl, it decided to go for broke and begin an invasion of the United States. To accomplish this, the Japanese chose to start in the Aleutian Islands and work their way up to Alaska from whence they could then attack the continental United States from land bases. On June 3, 1942, Japanese planes suddenly attacked U.S. Army and Navy installations at Dutch Harbor, located on an island southwest of the Alaskan Peninsula. The Anchorage Daily Times, in a 72-point headline, warned the country that Japan had raided Dutch Harbor!

Unexpected heavy resistance prevented the Japanese from following up their air attack with a ground invasion of Dutch Harbor, so they moved further down the Aleutian archipelago to establish bases. On June 6, 1942, Japanese soldiers landed on Kiska and on the next day Attu fell. For the next year, Japan occupied this conquered U.S. territory and prepared to move northeast. Then the Eleventh Air Force moved to stop the invading enemy. By May 1943, America had had enough.

Over 27,000 bombs were dropped on Kiska and Attu in an attempt to soften Japanese emplacements prior to amphibious landings of U.S. forces, which came on May 11, 1943. Eighteen days later, the Americans had retaken Attu. Of the 2,300 Japanese soldiers occupying the island, fewer than 30 survived. The U.S. then turned on Kiska.

With the expulsion of the Japanese from Attu, the Americans increased their bombardment of Kiska. Japanese cruisers and destroyers were forced to evacuate their soldiers, and by July 28, 1943, the last of the Japanese occupation forces had left U.S. territory and were on their way home.

For more than a year, the Japanese had done what no other nation had been able to do since the British occupied Washington, D.C., in the War of 1812. They invaded and occupied sovereign U.S. territory.

In the end, however, they had to face what Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto called the “sleeping giant,” which they had awakened a year earlier at Pearl Harbor, and those “giants” arose to set things right. Among them were scores of Maderans, some of whom gave their lives to keep the enemy from our shores.

Such was the full legacy of December 7, 1941.

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