16 Million Americans Were Involved with the U.S. Military During World War II
Anyone alive during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, remembers the emotions they felt upon the realization that a surprise military strike befell a United States naval base in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii. At the time, Hawaii was not yet a U.S. state. Join My Hero Crate, purveyors of military care packages, as we retell the history of Pearl Harbor.
A Brief History
The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service struck the base with 353 aircraft in two waves to prevent the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with its military operations in Southeast Asia. Over seven hours on the same day, the Japanese military also attacked Guam, Philippines, and Wake Island, all under U.S. control; and Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, under British control. On the naval base, eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, and four were sunk, along with three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and a minelayer. A total of 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans lost their lives; and 1,178 others were wounded.
Later that day, Japan declared war on the United States; the U.S. responded the next day by declaring war on Japan. A few days later on December 11, Germany and Italy each declared war on the United States, who responded in kind. European nations had already been warring after Germany invaded Poland and Russia.
Because the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred without a prior declaration of war and without warning, the events that unfolded that day were later judged as a war crime during the Tokyo Trials. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” It also happened to be the day that fully thrust the United States into World War II, called “the war in Europe” or “the emergency” at the time.
After FDR declared war, Americans went to work. They rationed food and gas; grew victory gardens in their backyards; and collected scrap metal, rubber, and paper to recycle for military use. Americans bought war bonds, donated money toward the war effort, and donated blood to the Red Cross.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, military recruitment offices were filled, after low enlistment plagued American armed forces the previous year. In Birmingham, Alabama, 600 men volunteered for the military within a few hours after the attack. In Boston, recruitment office lines were hours-long. Women, too, responded by wishing to enlist or donate whatever they could for war use. In December 1941, America’s military comprised 2.2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. By the end of the war, nearly 16 million Americans had served, either after voluntarily enlisting or being drafted.
The Aftermath for Japanese Americans
Throughout World War II, the U.S. government frequently referred to Pearl Harbor through imagery on posters and in publications to stir Americans’ support for the war effort. These messages also roused acceptance for sending Japanese-Americans to high-security internment camps.
Between 1,200 and 1,800 Japanese-Americans were interned in Hawaii, but more than 110,000 living on the West Coast were forced into the camps. Canada, too, responded similarly, by enacting laws to forcefully remove Canadians of Japanese descent from British Columbia and to send others to internment camps or to work on sugar beet farms as free labor.
The War Ends
Over the course of the following several years, the United States and its allies defeated two empires, and the U.S. became a global superpower. World War II ended on the deck of an American warship, the USS Missouri, on September 2, 1945. The war claimed 60 to 80 million lives, or 3 percent of the world’s population. The majority who died were civilians, including 6 million Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Pearl Harbor Today
Today, the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu, Hawaii, honors those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Missouri is now moored in Pearl Harbor and serves as a museum. Its bow is barely 1,000 feet southwest of the Arizona memorial. We still acknowledge December 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, although it isn’t a federal holiday, by flying the American flag at half-staff until sunset.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 325,574 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2020. Of those 16 million, 1 million were African-Americans; 44,500 were Native Americans; 11,000 were Japanese-Americans; and 250,000 were women. Most of the rest were white males.
Thank a Hero with a Military Care Package
If you know one of these brave Americans who served in the war, thank them for their service. Write them a thoughtful letter, spend quality time with them, or send them a military care package fit for a hero from My Hero Crate.