I used to have a research paper on this topic and cannot find it so this may become a live document; changing over time as I remember or find my research. This is not one where I am deconstructing history but instead telling the untold story of a major day or event.
Two movies have at least somewhat given homage to the people I am going to talk about. Tora Tora Tora did it well, although they were mere sideline stories to the bigger events. The movie Pearl Harbor placed the two stars in the roles of Taylor and Welch. If you have any interest in history, NEVER watch this film. It has no loyalty to history and lies about most of it.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was such a complete surprise that the Japanese planes were over Pearl Harbor before they were identified. Cornelia Fort who is also represented in Tora Tora Tora was the first pilot to have contact with and identify the Japanese planes approaching Pearl Harbor. She had no time to warn Pearl Harbor and was not in a war plane. I will have a story about Cornelia soon. She is worth knowing about.
General Short had been ordered to guard against sabotage at the airfields near Pearl so his method of doing so was to line the planes up in the open in tight rows so they could be guarded. This made them easily strafed and blown up, which is what the Japanese did. As a result, very few American pilots got in the air that day, especially during the first attack wave.
Second Lt George Welch and Lt Kenneth Taylor got up in the air since their planes were not at the main airfields. A choice made by a base commander who did not agree with General Short’s interpretation. Even being at a distant field, they were strafed as they got air born and had to evade attack immediately.
There are disputes about what happened and by who but what I can peace together is this …
350 or so Japanese airplanes attacked Pearl Harbor that day. Two groups of American planes seemed to get air born. Taylor and Welch flew as one pair. To take off as two planes, facing unknown numbers, with no known support had to be thrilling. They were heros when they took off, but they were not done achieving.
Their guns were not fully armed. Any ground gun emplacement would and did fire on them since they were not looking for defending US planes. All planes were seen as a threat during these moments. And because this is a moment in history, they were also both in tuxedos from a night of parties the night before. Lt Taylor was injured in his shoulder in the first flight against the first wave. He didn’t retire. Neither did, until they were out of ammunition. Worth noting here is that they were flying outdated P40 Warhawks against the best fighters in the world at that time.
When they did land they were ordered to abandon their planes and take cover. They defied this order and returned to the fight with fully fueled and armed planes this time. This means the ground crews also defied orders.
I agree with the actions of the ground crews as well as the pilots, tuxedos and all. Lt. Taylor also expressed frustration due to his injury, because his tuxedo was a rental and he would not get his deposit back.
Both pilots flew against the first and second waves of attack. Some credit them with three kills between them, others four. Welch flew one more mission than Taylor who finally had his wound attended to. They were credited with at least 3 kills, likely 4. For these actions against overwhelming enemy forces, Lt Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross(DSC) and Purple Heart, 2nd Lt Welch was also awarded the DSC. Both were recommended for the Medal of Honor. They were denied the Medals of Honor because they defied orders. I feel they should have received the medals partially BECAUSE they defied orders.
Unusual fashion was a theme of the day. 2nd Lt. Philip Rasmussen also led a flight of pilots up this day during the first attack. Not to be outdone by the Taylor and Welch, Rasmussen was in his purple PJs! And a gun belt. Also in order to out do Taylor and Welch he and his fellow flight group took off in P-36s. There were VERY out of date fighter planes.
Three of this flight group scored kills in that first attack wave. Rasmussen, 1st Lt. Lewis M. Sanders and 2nd Lt. Gordon H. Sterling, Jr. each downed one airplane, Sterling dying in the process. Rasmussen was also notable for landing his damaged P-36 with no tail wheel, no rudder, no brakes and no canopy. Rasmussen’s actions earned him the Silver Star.
It is hard to know what American soldiers struck first blood in the war in the pacific but they were among the first. It is worth noting that we had skirmishes with the Japanese before this. The American Volunteer Group(AVG) had been defending China in the same planes as Taylor and Welch for months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. They did this not as US airmen, but as civilians working for the Chinese. There is no way to know exactly but there were approximately 65 air to air kills by the AVG pilots, all before Pearl Harbor.
Both Taylor and Welch went on to distinguished careers in military service. Welch ended the war with 16 areal kills, a three time ace. He is also very likely and I feel was, the first man to break the sound barrier, As an F86 Saber test pilot after the war he experienced sonic booms in a dive while testing the plane. They didn’t know what they were at the time. This was two weeks before Chuck Yeager was credited with breaking the sound barrier. One major factor hid this event, Welch was no longer in military service. Chuck Yeager was. Yeager even acknowledges that Welch broke the barrier first.
Taylor eventually retired in 1971 with 6 aerial kills, an ace and at the rank of Brigadier General.
On a day of many heros, another one stands out. This man was also represented in both movies mentioned above. Doris Miller was a messman 3rd class. In other words, a nobody aboard the West Virginia. When the attack began, he was collecting laundry. He reported to his duty station to feed ammunition into an anti-aircraft gun. The station was already destroyed. He reported for reassignment duty and was asked to help move the wounded captain to a safer place.
After tending to the ship’s captain, he was then asked to accompany Lt White to a gun emplacement with two 50 cal. machine guns that were not manned. He was expected to load the gun the officer would fire. Instead, he loaded both guns and without training, fired the second 50 cal. machine gun. They kept firing with Lt White taking over loading both guns until they ran out of ammunition.
Doris Miller was awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Nimitz himself, Commander of the Pacific Fleet. He was eventually promoted to Petty Officer but died in service aboard the Linscom Bay. The Navy Cross he was awarded was the highest military award given to an African American to that date.
The following day a man who could not walk, as leader of the 17th largest military of the day, led a nation to war against Japan. Three days after, Germany who had 100 combat ready divisions declared war on the United States. We had one combat ready division. We were isolationists as the rest of the world around us was going to war. I understand that but that was a war we had to get into.
Some estimated that we would have to manufacture 10,000 planes to win the war. We missed that target by a long shot. We manufactured 100,000. The attack on Pearl Harbor was intended to eliminate or cripple the US fleet all at once. Eventually all but three ships sunk or severely damaged at Pearl Harbor returned to battle. Two of the three could have been but by choice were not repaired due to the Oklahoma and the Utah battle ships were deemed too old to be repaired.
The Japanese attack used 6 of their 10 fleet carriers for the attack. We only had 4 total at that time. The next day Japan attacked the Philippines with an additional 4 fleet carriers. We were not equipped to meet this threat.
By 1943, we were down to one aircraft carrier. The USS Enterprise. [I have eluded to this in this article [ https://5280nup.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/midway-day-june-7th/ ] I will write more about it soon. The Japanese had 7 at that time. By the end of the war with Japan, we had 27 fleet sized carriers and 103 total when you include smaller escort carriers.
We also won the race to atomic weaponry. This was the most important outcome of WWII. It established the US as world military leaders. Since that time, we have maintained that.
At the onset of WWII for us, we were the the 17th largest military, by the end of it were were the largest and have remained so. At the end of the war we were the only atomic nation. Today there are nine. Eight of them we have diplomatic relations with and 7 are allies. One is not a threat. We have more than all other nations except Russia combined. Russia’s arsenal is very out of date.
This is where I go off the historical and patriotic wagon for a bit. We still develop weapons and I get that. Usually technology saves lives and shortens wars just as the Atom bombs did. But we have a more powerful Military today than the next 11 nations combined. When will we slow down and focus on peace? Who are we so damn scared of?
Why are we scared of anyone?? Why do Americans fear terrorists when by definition that is their goal. They are not trying to destroy us, they cannot. Not even close. Yes they can kill and we often say “one life lost to terrorism is too much”. I don’t agree. It is not that I approve of terrorism, it’s that we kill one another all the time and barely pay attention. In the time it has taken you to read this far, 3-4 people have died from drunk drivers yet we never sentence them until they have 8-10 offenses. We accept American dead every day. I guess it is more acceptable if we are killing one another??
I am not and wont be scared of terrorists. It is a waste of my time and that is exactly what they want. So why are you scared? Why do you hunker down in a bunker or arm yourself as the “invisible army” if you are not scared? BTW, you are neither invisible nor an Army, get over your hero wanna be self. I wont live like that, I prefer freedom.
Hate me for saying that if you like but I wont fear them. We have done so much as a nation. We have fought so much bigger foes than terrorists. The press preaches fear. The news is all about how much danger we are in. Turn your damn TV off. It is propaganda and it is a shame to the legacy of Taylor, Welch and Miller and all the others who faced much bigger risk and stood firm. Honor the heros of days like that by NOT fearing small threats like terrorists.
A quarter century after Pearl Harbor we live largely in peace and have realistically, almost no threats. This is THE most peaceful time in recorded history. This is partially due to the actions taken following this day in history. Honor the work that followed by simply living happily, relaxing, enjoying the peace they gave us and lets stop being so damn scared.