Pearl Harbor Day
Psalm 124:1-8
December 7
On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, which brought America into World War II. Five American battleships and three destroyers were sunk, some 400 planes were damaged or destroyed, and nearly 3,000 sailors, military personnel, and civilians were killed. At that time, it was the deadliest attack ever against America.
The attack came on a Sunday morning. Chaplain Howell (How) M. Forgy, a graduate of Princeton and pastor of a Presbyterian church in Fort Collins, Colorado before joining the Navy in 1940, recalls:
It was a typical peacetime Navy Sunday. Most of the officers and men were ashore. I was lying in my bunk thinking about my morning sermon when the ship shuddered. The general quarters alarm sounded and the loudspeaker cried, “All hands to battle stations! All hands to battle stations! This is no drill! This is no drill!” I ran to my station in sick bay and asked the doctor, “Is this for real?” It was indeed for real. Japanese planes were attacking. I asked and received permission to go above, and a plane buzzed the ship as I stepped outside the hatch. Bullets ricocheted and I did a jig down the deck...[1]
It was then that Chaplain Forgy saw what was to remain the most shocking sight in his whole life as the battleship USS Arizona exploded a short distance away. Over the loudspeaker, Forgy heard the urgent command for “the man with the keys to the ammunition locker to lay (go) below!” Unfortunately, the sailor with the keys had gone to shore with the keys in his pocket. So, Chaplain Forgy, who was 6’2” and played on his championship football team helped crewmen break into the ammo lockers with fire axes.
In the midst of the attack, Chaplain Forgy encouraged the men as they were handling the ammunition to fire back at the Japanese bombers and fighters:
Well, I was stationed aboard the USS New Orleans, and we were tied up at 1010 dock in Pearl Harbor when we were attacked again. We were having a turbine lifted, and all of our electrical power wasn’t on, and so when we went to lift the ammunition by the hoist, we had to form lines of men — form a bucket brigade — and we began to carry the ammunition up through the quarterdeck into the gurneys, and I stood there and directed some of the boys down the port side and some down the starboard side, and as they were getting a little tired, I just happened to say, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”[2]
That phrase caught fire. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” became the basis for and title of a popular song by Frank Loesser in 1942. The day following the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a grief-stricken and anxious American people:
December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.... Our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.[3]
Chaplain Forgy and the crew of the USS New Orleans went on to fight in the major Battles of the Coral Sea, at Midway, and at Lunga Point, where a Japanese torpedo carried away the whole bow, one-third of the ship. Yet by the grace of God, Chaplain Forgy survived the war. His popular phrase and President Roosevelt’s speech appealing to God in the face of attack are a couple of lost episodes from America’s amazing story.
Bible Reading: Read Psalm 124 and reflect on the psalmist’s confidence in God’s deliverance and compare it with the attitude expressed by the Chaplain and the President.
 Prayer: Lord of Heavenly Armies, we trust in you to protect us and defend us against our enemies. Thank you for brave souls who are willing to put their lives on the line to defend our freedom, as those who did at Pearl Harbor and beyond. May our leaders realize that our hope is in you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
[1] Jack S. McDowell, ed., And Pass the Ammunition (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1944), 9.
[2] John Bartlett, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1855, 1980), 871.
[3] John Graham, ed., Great American Speeches 1898-1963 (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970), 221.