Rising to the Challenge

In the first year since Imperial Japan attacked Oahu, the United States is still stunned but adapting quickly to new realities – sacrifice, commitment and a need to rise to the challenge in Europe, in the Pacific and on the home front. In Europe, America’s Allies battle Germany’s Nazis and Italy’s Fascists. In the Pacific, the United States leads Allies against Japan’s aggressive military.

In the first six months of the war the Allies suffer defeat after defeat. But in early June of 1942 the Battle of Midway brings a glimmer of victory – and hope – in the Pacific. By late summer and autumn, the Allies land on and hold Guadalcanal, the first major rung in a ladder rising toward Imperial Japan. In North Africa, U.S. forces join with our Allies in fighting enemy forces for the first time.

On December 7, 1942, sailors and civilian workers gather at the USS Arizona (BB-39) to pause, reflect and remember those who were killed in Pearl Harbor. A single pole displays an American flag that flutters in a Hawaiian breeze. It is the first of 76 years of remembrances to follow. This year we remember a nation rising to the challenge to eventually create a peaceful and free Japan and Western Europe. Today, here in Pearl Harbor, we celebrate the peace shared between the United States and Japan and all our friends and partners.


December 7, 1941

Shortly before 0800 on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces launched an attack on Pearl Harbor. The intent was to undermine the ability of the U.S. Pacific Fleet to counter expansion of the Japanese empire in Southeast Asia. The attack lasted less than two hours but resulted in heavy U.S. casualties and extensive damage to the battle fleet. Twenty-one ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged. The three U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were away from Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack and escaped damage. The memory of Pearl Harbor inspired perseverance through the challenges of the years ahead and remains a reminder of the sacrifice of service members past and present.

December 8, 1941

The United States declares war on the Japanese Empire.

December 8, 1941

Japanese forces begin a full-scale invasion of Southeast Asia with attacks on Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong Singapore and the Philippines. Guam would fall to Japanese forces on December 10, followed by the surrender of Wake on December 23, Hong Kong on December 25 and Singapore on February 15, 1942. By early 1942, the Japanese Empire stretched from Burma in the west to the Marshall and Gilbert islands to the east and south to Papua New Guinea. The Japanese were continuing to flex their naval might, seeking to target Navy carriers not destroyed at Pearl Harbor, and keen on eliminating the Navy presence and threat in the Pacific.

February - March 1942

With the U.S. battle fleet still recovering from the damage of the Pearl Harbor attack, it was left to the rest of the fleet to take the fight to the enemy. Not one battlewagon engaged in any of these early Pacific raids, which were combination carrier attacks and bombardments. Carriers began to show their beyond-the-horizon capabilities and cruisers provided the biggest guns. Through the course of these actions, the United States was on the attack for the first time in the war. While the victories were not momentous and the losses were light, the raids represent the first steps of the rise of the carrier.

April 18, 1942

The Doolittle Raid is launched. Sixteen B-25 bombers launched from the USS Hornet hit targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagoya. The unexpected employment of long-range U.S. Army bombers took the Japanese by surprise. Admiral Yamamoto’s fear of a U.S. carrier strike against the homeland proved warranted and led to thrust against the important U.S. advanced naval base at Midway.

April - May 1942

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that the enemy’s seemingly relentless advance into the Pacific was checked. It was also the first major U.S. Navy fleet action against Japan and the first naval engagement in history in which the participating ships never sighted or fired directly at each other.

June 3 - 7, 1942

The Battle of Midway was fought at and near the island of Midway, just 1300 miles from Oahu. As a result of the battle, 4 Japanese carriers are sunk and the way is cleared for the United States to take the offensive in the Pacific.

August 1942 - February 1943

The Battle of Guadalcanal was the U.S. Navy's first offensive amphibious operation in the Pacific. It was to turn into a six-month-long seesaw campaign that pitted ships and aircraft of the U.S. Navy and ground and air units of the Marine Corps and Army against tenacious Japanese resistance by land and sea. By the end of December 1942, the Japanese Imperial High Command had reluctantly evaluated and accepted recommendations for the evacuation of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. The last Japanese were evacuated during the night of February 7, 1943. Coupled with the Battle of Midway, the Allied victory on Guadalcanal was likely the turning point of the Pacific War. Japan was now on the defensive.