Attack on Pearl Harbor: How our own airwaves were used against us

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We’re coming up on the 80th anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. A day that still lives on through remembrance and memorials throughout the country.

Just like with any military operation, tactical movement is based around a forecast. The Japanese started their mission two weeks before the attack. A Japanese forecaster named Hidetoshi Arakawa was asked to make a forecast. He wasn’t told why it was needed. But It gave a go for the Japenese to set off on their twelve-day journey under the cover of cloudy and misty conditions across the Pacific. That thick cloud cover helped hide their aircraft carriers from sight.

They stopped about 200 miles north of Hawaii and struggled to decide when to attack. Hidetoshi’s forecast had gotten them this far but now they needed to know what the weather was like in Hawaii. They needed good weather to send their planes and to carry out their attack. So how were they going to find out? By using our own airwaves and listening to American radio stations. Once they heard an announcer say, “averaging partly cloudy, with clouds mostly over the mountains”. the Japanese knew the mission was a go.

It was on December 7th of 1941 at 7:55 am that three hundred fifty-three Japanese aircraft began their attack. It would last for hours. By early that afternoon, the carriers that launched the planes were on their way back to Japan. Over 2,400 Americans died and nearly 1,200 wounded… 328 aircraft were destroyed and 19 ships either sank or were damaged. It was chaos for the men and women in Pearl Harbor that day. And while we have lots of recounting of that chaos, there’s one man in particular who documented something he may not have known would live on forever.

Private First Class Sherman Levine was the weather observer on duty during the attack. His job was to take hourly weather observations. The weather was typical that morning… mild temperatures, mainly clear skies with light east to northeast wind. But Levine’s very last observation has the words “obstructions to visibility” more than likely from the smoke… and you can see what is now believed to be the word “terrified”.

This is believed to be the last observation Private First Class Levine would make. He died in the attack that day. PFC Levine was only 18.

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