On this day, December 7, we remember the men of the US armed forces but mainly the men of the US Navy who gave their lives during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

We now know that the Japanese government intended to declare war on the United States and attack Pearl Harbor an hour later. But a snafu inside the Japanese Embassy on the weekend and an issue with the decoding and typing of the message delayed the message until after the attack was over.

The US fleet was caught unaware and unprepared and most of the ship’s fleet were asleep on a Sunday morning. By the time the Japanese warplanes withdrew, eight battleships, the pride of the Pacific fleet lay sunk or damaged, 18 ships in all were sunk or damaged. Over 200 planes were destroyed on the ground. And 2407 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed on that day with 1247 others wounded.

But what many people don’t realize is that the Japanese didn’t fire the first shot in the war when they commenced bombing. The first shot was fired by the destroyer USS Ward, who fired on and sunk a Japanese midget submarine that was trying to sneak into the harbor. Unfortunately, the reports from the Ward were discounted and disbelieved by Navy brass. Something, they’d pay dearly for. The ship’s crew didn’t get confirmation that they’d sunk the submarine for over 60 years.

The only silver lining in the catastrophe at Pearl was the fact that the three American aircraft carriers, the primary target for the Japanese aircraft were at sea and untouched. That fact saved Pearl from the third wave of air attacks from the Japanese which may have severely damaged the infrastructure and oil facilities at Pearl Harbor. Six months later, those same American aircraft carriers would slam the Japanese on the attack at Midway. This time the Americans were ready and intercepted the Japanese coded messages and sunk four of Japan’s top of the line aircraft carriers. It would turn the war in the Pacific.

But during the early morning hours of that fateful December 7th, Intelligence reports were coming in as Navy and Army brass knew the Japanese were going to attack us, but no knew where.

If you’ve seen the excellent war film Tora, Tora, Tora, it breaks down the events as they unfolded with very good detail. The filmmakers touched on an incident that, had the US brass reacted to, may have radically changed how the battle unfolded.

The USS Ward was a destroyer, a mothballed and resurrected relic from World War I. She was a Wickes class destroyer, displacing 1250 tons. Ward was armed with four 4” 50 caliber and two 3” guns. She was launched and commissioned in 1918 and was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1921. Recommissioned in January 1941 she was assigned to the 14th Naval District in Oahu. Therefore, she would just steam back and forth, east and west, within sight of the shore.