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News

Let’s remember Pearl Harbor and go on to victory

  • Published
  • By Jessica Johnson
  • 944th Fighter Wing historian

December 7, 1941. This day has gone down in history, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined it, a day that will live in infamy. The surprise attack on the Hawaiian naval air station sent a shock through the nation and was the catalyst that catapulted the United States into World War II. over 2,400 Americans were killed, more than 1,000 were wounded and the attack left the U.S. Pacific Fleet with severe losses. Four battleships were sunk, the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS West Virginia, and the USS California.

American outrage at the attack fueled congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan within a day of the initial attack. Pearl Harbor was the force that drove Americans to the recruiting offices. But this great tragedy is not without its heroes and tales of glory.

On that sunny Sunday morning, no one could have ever anticipated a direct attack on U.S. soil. Chaos unsued when the Japanese bombardment began. However, there were a number of determined and incredibly brave pilots that decided they wouldn’t let this aggression go without a response.

Two members of the 47th Pursuit Squadron, now the 47th Fighter Squadron, which was attached to Wheeler Field came to this very conclusion. 2nd Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth Taylor, Army Air Corps pilots, had just arrived to their first duty station on Hawaii less than a year prior.

The two men had just finished an all-night poker game when they heard the sound of air fire just before eight in the morning. The planes of the 47th were located at Haleiwa Field for training and the two pilots drove 11 miles in mere minutes to reach their aircraft. Without orders, they leapt into action and took to the air to return the fight to the waves of Japanese fighter planes.

Taylor and Welch were able to down at least six enemy aircraft during the violence. They were two of only five Army Air Corps pilots that were able to make it into the air that day. They were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, having been the first two to receive that honor in World War II. Taylor received a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained that day after a bullet penetrated the canopy of his aircraft, sending shrapnel into his leg and hitting him in the arm.

Today, the actions of these two men live on in the legacy of the 47th Fighter Squadron. According to retired Maj. Gen. James W. Graves, former 47th Fighter Squadron commander, “The U.S. was able to find a bright light in what was otherwise known as the darkest days of U.S. military history because of [their] decisiveness, tenancy, and courage…”Today the 47th Fighter Squadron lives up to the legacy of braver y, honor, and valor shown by two pilots during a time of overwhelming danger.