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What U.S. national day of remembrance had been earlier declared as "a date which will live in infamy"?

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On the morning of 7 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy and Air Force attacked Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The attack came as a surprise to the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Marine Corps and lead to great losses of life and equipment. More than 2,000 American citizens were killed and more that 1,000 others were injured. The Americans also lost a large proportion of their battle ships and nearly 200 aircraft that were stationed in the Pacific region. More than 60 Japanese servicemen were killed, injured or captured. The Japanese Navy also lost five midget submarines and 29 aircraft. Although the Japanese military had hoped that this attack would prevent the U.S. from increasing her influence in the Pacific, the events of the day had a reverse effect that led to the escalation of World War II. The following day, 8 December 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress calling for a formal declaration of war on the Japanese Empire stated that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was "a date which will live in infamy". That same day, Congress not only obliged the president's request but also declared war against Germany and Italy and subsequently marked the entry of the U.S. into World War II.

In terms of on-site commemoration, it was nearly seventeen years later, on 15 March 1958, that the 85th Congress (President Dwight D. Eisenhower) officially authorized the Secretary of the Navy to undertake the construction of a United States Ship Arizona Memorial and museum to be located on the hulk of the Arizona in Pearl Harbor. Three years later, on 6 September 1961, the 87th Congress (President John F. Kennedy) authorized the appropriation of $150,000 for use toward the construction of a United States Pacific War Memorial "...in honor and in commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941." The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was erected under the direction of the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District, with funds raised in a nation-wide campaign including a $100,000 donation by the State of Hawaii and was dedicated on Memorial Day 1962. Later, on 4 April 1984, AMVETS (American Veterans) installed and rededicated a memorial wall aboard the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial "TO THE MEMORY OF THE GALLANT MEN HERE ENTOMBED AND THEIR SHIPMATES WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN ACTION ON DECEMBER 7, 1941 ON THE U.S.S. ARIZONA".

More than five decades later, on 23 August 1994, it was understood by the 103rd Congress (President Bill Clinton) that "commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor will instill in all people of the United States a greater understanding and appreciation of the selfless sacrifice of the individuals who served in the armed forces of the United States during World War II" and designated 7 December of each year as 'National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day' "in honor of the individuals who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbour". Today, thousands of Americans gather in Hawaii and around the U.S. to mark the anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and as of 13 September 2019, it is known that out of the 1,512 sailors and Marines assigned to the Arizona when it sank, 1,177 died in the attack, and of those who survived, there are only two remaining survivors.

On this day, 7 December 2021, we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched the United States to engage into World War II, and mark more than 27 years since the "date which will live in infamy" was designated as an annual day of remembrance.

André M. Levesque

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