Tag Archives: World War II

Why remembering Pearl Harbor remains important today

On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service delivered a devastating blow to the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

This was a preemptive surprise attack by the Japanese, with the hope that they could decimate the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Japanese believed that the United States was the greatest potential threat to their planned expansion of power in the Pacific region.

The early morning attack would launch in two waves from a half-dozen Japanese air craft carriers. Some 350 aircraft fighters and bombers would sink four American battleships and damage four more, sink eight other vessels, destroy 188 aircraft, and damage 159 more.

Over 2,400 Americans were killed with more than 1,100 injured. Japanese losses of life and equipment were minimal in comparison.

In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous and impassioned speeches in U.S. history to a joint session of the U.S. Congress the following day. It began as follows:

“Yesterday, December 7th, 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. 

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.”

To that point, the United States had been able to stay out of active involvement in World War II. Meanwhile, the Japanese had become involved in an “Axis” powers agreement with Germany under Adolf Hitler and Italy under Benito Mussolini. Their aim was nothing less than global domination.

Roosevelt’s speech called on the Congress to declare war against Japan, which it did within the hour. Germany and Italy would then declare war on the United States. Thus began U.S. involvement in World War II, the deadliest war in human history.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese Marshall Admiral of the Navy and leader of their combined fleet during the war, did not believe that Japan could win a lengthy war with America. 

Following the attack, Yamamoto is alleged to have written in his diary “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

American had been trying to stay out of World War II to that point. Formally declaring neutrality in the opening years of conflict, the U.S. gradually began to provide aid to Great Britain and others, and imposed economic sanctions on Japan.

The Japanese attack did indeed awaken America from its slumber. It forced us to realize that we could no longer ignore the expansionist aims of Hitler, Mussolini, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito. 

We were now forced to either allow these ideologies to overrun Europe and Asia, eventually becoming a major threat to our own security, or go to war to try and defeat them.

In the end, American military might and civilian industry proved the difference in winning the war. However, it would not be the last time that our nation was attacked on our own shores, or threatened by an ideology bent on world domination.

Flash forward nearly 60 years to September 11, 2001. Most Americans reading this require no reminder of what happened on that equally beautiful morning. Another sneak attack from the skies, this time from radical extremists bent on spreading the dominance of an Islamic worldwide caliphate.

That extremist ideology did not begin on 9/11, and it has not gone away today. The Islamists continue to spread their hope for a renewed global caliphate ruling under Sharia law in both aggressive and passive ways. 

Attacks and bombings by ISIL, ISIS, the Taliban, al Qaeda and others gain headlines in Europe and elsewhere. But the ultimate growth of the caliphate is also furthered by overrunning traditional populations of western nations through waves of unfettered immigration, followed by non-assimilation with that traditional culture. 

So-called “No-Go Zones” have formed in nations around the world. In recent years, they have begun to form right here in the United States of America. These areas have been largely closed off to legitimate authorities, and are being governed by principles of Sharia law rather than the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately, the goal is to build more of these zones, and to grow and expand them.

The lessons of Pearl Harbor need to be remembered by Americans today, because there remain very real parallels. The ultimate goals of the Axis powers in World War II are similar to those of the radical Islamists today. 

The lesson of history is that you must be smart enough to recognize a threat when one emerges, and you must be prepared to face down that threat. To repeat an old but always relevant phrase, if we fail to remember the lessons of history we are destined to repeat them.

Real American Hero: John Mihalowski

John Mihalowski, Medal of Honor recipient


The old series which regularly ran here at my website continue to return with this first “Real American Heroes” piece in over four years.

This series normally remembers and honors heroes from the American military ranks. Many were recipients of the Medal of Honor. This is the highest and most prestigious honor which can be bestowed upon a member of the United States military. It is awarded to recognize outstanding acts of valor.

However, the series is not limited to winners of that honor, or even solely to the military. For instance, in April of 2010, I told the story of Brandon Darby, whose conversion from radical leftist to undercover FBI informant saved numerous lives and helped keep America safe.

Thus far, my series has told the story of 10 of these individuals. With this piece, ‘ROH’ will continue regularly into the future.

Today the spotlight shines on late United States Navy diver John Mihalowski for his actions on May 23, 1939. For those who know their history, this places his actions a full two and half years prior to American involvement in World War II.

There have been 3,516 Medal of Honor recipients to date in the history of the award. Only 193 of those honored came for actions performed during peacetime. Mihalowski, who died in October 1993, is the last such living recipient.

Mihalowski also did not perform his valorous actions alone. He was one of four recipients for actions performed that day. The other three honorees, Orson Crandall (1960), James McDonald (1973), and William Badders (1986) all predeceased him. All should be remembered together, and Mihalowski has been highlighted simply for being that surviving Medal of Honor recipient for actions during peacetime.

The events leading to the heroic actions of these four brave men actually began on May 12, 1939 when the submarine USS Squalus undertook a series of test dives off the coast of New Hampshire.

Over the next 10 days, Squalus successfully completed 18 dives. It was then on May 23, while attempting her 11th dive, that things went tragically wrong.

Approximately six miles off the coast at the Isle of Sholes, Squalus main induction valve failed. The sub quickly flooded, and 26 men were immediately drowned. The remaining crew were able to prevent final compartments from flooding, but the sub sank to the bottom in some 243 feet of water.

The submarine rescue ship Falcon was dispatched to her aid with our four heroes on board as part of the crew. Falcon was equipped with new technology, the McCann Rescue Chamber. This device was capable of holding up to eight rescued crew members, as well as two rescuers.

Mihalowski and the three other Real American Heroes were the divers assigned to the actual rescue operation. The men utilized newly developed heliox diving schedules which were designed to help overcome cognitive impairment symptoms that had previously accompanied such efforts.

Using the MRC and the heliox schedules, the four men were able to rescue all 33 remaining Squalus crew members. Mihalowski and Badders, who was the senior member of the dive crew, made one final effort to rescue possible survivors in the Squalus flooded portion.

While no survivors were discovered there, the effort was extremely perilous for those final two divers. As their Medal of Honor citations read, both men were “fully aware of the great danger involved…became incapacitated, there was no way in which either could be rescued.”

Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison presented Medals of Honor to The men are (left to right): Badders; Mihalowski; Crandall; and McDonald.

The four men further assisted in the raising of Squalus itself, a project which took over two months and 628 dives. It required the divers to pass cables underneath the submarine, attach pontoons for buoyancy, and ensure she was raised slowly.

Squalus was reconditioned, repaired, and overhauled. Recommissioned as the USS Sailfish on May 15, 1940, she headed out for the Pacific in January 1941. Sailfish arrived at Pearl Harbor in March, then headed to the Philippines. She engaged in a dozen successful missions during World War II.

As for Mihalowski, during World War II, he took part in rescue and salvage operations on six ships that had been exploded in Pearl Harbor. He also took part in similar actions as executive officer aboard the USS Shackle, during the battle of Okinawa in 1945. 

After the war, he participated in harbor clearance in Japan and in salvage work after the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests. He transferred to Fleet Reserve in 1948 but was returned to active duty in 1950. 

Mihalowski was reinstated as Lieutenant and assigned to the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C., finally retiring as a Lieutenant Commander in 1958. He passed away at his Florida home on October 29, 1993 at the age of 82

Click on the ‘Tag’ below in order to read the entire series. 

Become a beacon of light

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Genesis 1:3-4

There is plenty of darkness in the world today. Every single day you can turn on a 24-hour news network, open any news website, pickup a newspaper and read about the influence of the darkness in men’s souls.

As of yesterday there were 212 homicides committed in the City of Philadelphia alone. That’s 17 more than last year at the same time, and last year ended with 18 more than the previous year.

On Sunday, white supremacist Wade Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and shot nine people, killing six immediately. Among the three critically wounded was a white Oak Creek police lieutenant, Brian Murphy. One wonders if a white Irish-Catholic who worked every day to keep his community safe and peaceful was an intended target of Page’s particular brand of hate. One answers that it really doesn’t matter.

Page and others such as Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 people in their 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, and Troy West, who mercilessly beat a black female military veteran in front of her 7-year old daughter outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Georgia in 2009 are all examples that the white community needs to take to heart.

Shootings, stabbings, and other attacks in this country and around the world do not have as their common denominator the race, sex, ethnic background, or religious belief of the attackers. What they do have in common is darkness and hate. At some point in the attackers lives, they chose to embrace the darkness over the light, and as with many who make such a choice, found their lives spiraling out of control.

We can all find reasons to hate others if that is what we want. Everyone is victimized at one time or another in their lives. From events as large-scale as the Nazi atrocities in World War II or the terrorist attacks of 9/11, to something as personal as a crime committed against us by someone of another race or group, events occur out of the hateful hearts of others that can often result in some of us responding with hate of our own.

Many respond to these circumstances by taking on their own darkness and hatred within their hearts against those who victimized them. This hate festers and grows and in the end perpetuates the overall hate in the world. Often these victims pass their hatred along to their children, helping racism and sexism grow, tainting any good that the parents may also try to teach those impressionable minds, such as positive faith messages.

The fact is that we are all called on to not only continually seek the light, but to become beacons of light in the world. We are called to this not only when the sun is shining and the skies are clear and there is a song in the air. We are called to this on the worst of days, when the evil in other men’s souls causes fear and hurt and death and destruction.

In the New Testament, Matthew writes famously in his Gospel: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Good men and women understand the premise that they are called to turn away from darkness and embrace light. This begins with the things with which you surround yourself, the ways in which you express yourself, the styles and colors in which you dress regularly, the people and writings and music which you allow to become influences in your life. Embrace darkness, and do not be surprised when darkness and negativity become regular occurrences in your life.

There is a place for darkness. It is a time and place and mood to be used for peace, quiet, and reflection. But darkness is not where we should be living, only a temporary place for rest, until the light returns. John writes: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Those who choose to live in that darkness, to make it a primary influence in their lives and in their hearts, grow increasingly incapable of understanding and embracing the truth of the good to be found in the light.

Do you want people to stop beating and killing gays, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, children, women, blacks, police officers? Do you want people to stop hurting and killing one another? Then what you really want is people to stop hating one another. You can start that process, by stopping the hate within yourself. Be that “city on a hill“, that lighthouse shining in the darkness, the light breaking through the clouds.

Paul says it best, calling us in his letter to the Romans: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Love one another, forgive one another. Give peace a chance. Choose to live in the light, and to become a beacon of light in what can often be a dark world. It is where you are called to live, how you are called to act, what you are called to be and believe.

Our Last Christmas Together

USS Russell at Pearl Harbor, Christmas 2007

For many of us there will be much to celebrate this Christmas. Family, friends, parties, dinners. Gifts, food, drink, music. Trees, Santa Clause, Rudolph, Frosty. And of course, the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. For many of us this will be a very happy time of year.

But for some of us, this will be our first Christmas without a very special person in our lives. In fact, there are a probably a few of us, and one day this will be all of us, for whom this will be our own final Christmas. Even more tragically for some, even at this late date, last year will prove to have been our final Christmas.

Today is December 7th, and it marks the 68th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks which drew America directly into World War II. For many around the world at that time, it had already been a time of loss, and for many more it was a time of concern for loved ones fighting in the war.

For Americans waking up and heading out to church on that fateful Sunday morning it was a time of growing concern. And yet to that point, we were not directly involved in the fighting that was happening in Europe. Most were still looking forward to the coming of Christmas in a few weeks. For some, it would mark the return home, even if just briefly, of their family members and friends serving on the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

What many of those brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, medical and other personnel stationed at Pearl did not know was that they were waking up to their final moments in this life. They had already celebrated their final Christmas here on earth, and not a single one of them realized it at that point.

There are many people who think that this is too maudlin a topic for discussion. This is a time for buying presents, decorating homes and trees, wrapping gifts, planning family get-togethers. It is most certainly no time to think about someone getting sick or dying. These people are absolutely correct, and that is definitely not what I am advocating by bringing up the subject.

What I am pointing out is a simple fact: this will be the final Christmas for many people, including many who have no idea of it, and who have no reason to believe that would be so at this point. But even if only in the backs of our minds, everyone knows that one day their own final Christmas will come along.

The point of this topic is to again bring home the idea of the true meaning of Christmas. For the vast majority of us, this is not our wedding anniversary, nor is it our birthday. This is the season that we celebrate the gift that God Himself gave to us all in the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The celebration of Christmas is something that we need to make room for in our hearts, no matter what our personal experiences may be at this time. Is someone that you know, perhaps even yourself, very sick and possibly dying? Celebrate Christmas. Has someone that you loved been taken from you this past year, perhaps suddenly? Celebrate Christmas.

When I say that we should celebrate Christmas despite our circumstances, I am not necessarily saying that you should get out and live it up. I am not saying that you need to drink and dance and make merry. What I am saying is that you fully and deeply in your heart and mind recognize the meaning of Christmas, and find a way to keep the season holy.

Perhaps your loss or illness has caused you to not decorate as you normally would, or not buy gifts as you normally would, or not attend a holiday party as you normally would. Again, no one is saying that you have to operate as if nothing is different this year. But there are alternatives.

Ask a close friend or family member to help you put a few small decorations and lights around your home. They will be more than happy to help you. Go online and buy a few special people a small holiday flower arrangement. Go to church instead of going to a party. Pray to God for direction and healing during a time that has you reflecting more on past happiness than on the present.

Mostly, draw on those many happy memories that we all have of Christmas past. Times shared with parents and spouses, children and grandchildren, friends and lovers. Enjoy some quiet time listening to holiday music, watching Christmas specials on television, and simply opening our hearts in quiet time to God, thanking him for his own special gift to us.

This might very well be our last Christmas together. Perhaps last year already was. That would indeed be tragic in many respects. But it would not be nearly as tragic as our having spent our final Christmas together, and then whichever of us has survived not allowing ourselves to again celebrate a merry and happy Christmas.

For the families of the service persons who died on December 7th, 1941 the final Christmas together had already been spent. I am quite sure that December 25th, 1941 was a sad day in many homes. But 68 Christmas Days have past since, and my bet is that the vast majority of those families have learned to move on and again celebrate in the true Christmas spirit.

That is what their loved ones lost on that fateful day which lives in infamy would have wanted. It is what your own loved ones would want for you and your families today. It is certainly what we would want if it were we who passed on to our glory in God’s kingdom in Heaven. Let’s enjoy our last Christmas together, whenever that may be…and the one after…and the one after…and the one…

NOTE: The image accompanying this story is of the USS Russell, a guided missile destroyer which won the 2007 first prize in the annual holiday ship-lighting contest at Pearl Harbor

Movie Vets Help the Rest of Us Appreciate

Like most Americans, I have never experienced the honor of wearing the uniform of one of our brave military branches in service to my country. I have heard it from many who are my same age. We turned 18 years of age in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

There was no war raging at that time, unless you count the Cold War. Sadly, in many homes the tradition of military service was not passed along.

I have always felt it missing from my own set of life experiences and from my professional resume. An opportunity to experience that sense of duty and honor, and of service to my country and community, is certainly one of the many reasons that I joined the Philadelphia Police Department almost two decades ago now.

If I didn’t make the choice as a kid to put on the uniform of my country, then at least I could put on a uniform here and help protect our homeland.

Still, it would be hard for most of us to ever appreciate what real soldiers, sailors, and pilots have experienced as they have defended both our nation directly and the cause of freedom around the world.

While television news presents missiles being launched and far away explosions, they rarely, if ever, show the truth of close, intense combat situations and the split-second decisions that can mean the difference between life and death.

What was it really like to climb inside the cockpit of a fighter plane in World War II and engage in a mission over enemy lines, perhaps in combat with Nazi or Japanese pilots?

What was it really like to crawl inside of a tank and head out into the deserts of Iraq?

What was it really like to trudge through a swamp in the jungles of Vietnam?

What was it really like to charge on to a battle field in the Civil War?

What was it like to cross the Delaware River in a small boat, freezing and shivering in the cold with General Washington in the Revolutionary War?

For all of it’s many faults, one of the things that Hollywood has managed to do best is to portray those military heroes well.
They bring us close to the battles and often inside the very heads of the individuals involved. Whether those men and women were fighting in combat in war time or protecting our nation and it’s interests in peace time, motion pictures have given us the opportunity to get close to the action.

In 1998, Steven Spielberg took us right out on to Omaha Beach with it’s horror and death during the D-Day invasion of World War II. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Paul Giamatti, Matt Damon, Dennis Farina and the rest of the stellar cast of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ took us into the heads, hearts, and minds of the heroes who rescued humanity from Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

In 1994, Hanks had joined with director Robert Zemeckis and fellow actors Gary Sinise and Mykelti Williamson to explore the Vietnam War and it’s participants from some unusual angles in ‘Forrest Gump’.

Back in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola had given us a look into the jungle battles with starring turns from Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Sam Bottoms, and Dennis Hopper in ‘Apocalypse Now’.

In 1986, Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ with Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen took us back to the ‘Nam.

While World War II and Vietnam have been the focus of some of the best war movies in motion picture history, many other conflicts around the world have shone a light on the struggles and accomplishments of America’s fighting heroes.

From 1935’s ‘Gone With the Wind’ visiting the Civil War to 2005’s ‘Jarhead’ taking us inside Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm we have seen American troops rise to defend their nation, democracy, and freedom.

So while few of us have had or ever will have that experience, we get at least a small taste of the hardships, the horrors, and the sacrifices that men and women make when they join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and other military service groups thanks to the best of these Hollywood productions. Still, while it gives us a taste, it will never compare to real life.

Those men and women represented by these Hollywood characters and caricatures, by this retelling of history, and by the drama of fiction within a historical construct are the real heroes who we must always thank and never forget.

Especially today, on Veteran’s Day here in the United States, we must all join together in supporting and thanking the military veterans who fight for our nation, and in some cases who are injured and even die for the cause of our freedom and liberty.