December 7, 1941: “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy.”

Pearl Harbor, photo courtesy of lefatima

Pearl Harbor, photo courtesy of lefatima

Seventy-five years ago today, The Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, “A date which will live in infamy.” The following day, the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later, it declared war on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

In an earlier post, I wrote about Pearl Harbor from the point of view of two families. Today, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of that attack, I’d like to run that post one more time.

Pearl Harbor Wasn’t the Only Target

If you’re a history buff, you probably know how expansive the Imperial Japanese Navy war plans were for December 7, 1941. Besides attacking Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, they planned and carried out simultaneous strikes and movements against several other targets, attacking the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, Midway, Malaya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Java, Sumatra and Shanghai.

There was at least one other place they invaded on that day. But let me keep you guessing for a while.

Two Families Half a World ApartMom&Dad 001

Less than two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, my parents were married in Mount Vernon, WA. In keeping with wartime frugality, it was a simple civil ceremony. Soon thereafter my dad, who was still actually a Canadian citizen then, was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama for basic training. When he completed training, he was shipped out to fight in North Africa and then in Italy, France, and Germany.

They made him an engineer, which meant he was sent out beyond the front lines to build bridges and such.

Andy Cromarty and his best friend before the siege of Monte Cassino

Andy Cromarty and his best friend, Chet, before the siege of Monte Cassino

During the siege of Monte Cassino, Chet, was killed. Losing his best friend was so painful for my father that he avoided having a best friend again as long as the war continued.

In Nov 1944 during the Battle for Bruyeres in Alsace, France, my dad and another Army engineer were sent out to locate mines by stabbing the ground with a knife. The other man made contact with a mine and was blown to bits. My dad spent the next six weeks in a French hospital before returning to the front.

When my dad was at war, my mom was pregnant with me. After my birth, she sent him pictures of the baby surrounded by hearts and lacy doilies. My dad, who was generally quiet and low-key, wrote mushy letters back to her. (She saved them all.) My favorite quote from him: “I love my wife, baby, rifle & foxhole.” When he returned from the war, I was already three years old.

On the other side of the world my future husband’s family was affected more directly by the attack on Pearl Harbor. They lived on the small Chinese island of Kulangsu (now known as Gulangyu). The area surrounding them had been occupied by the Japanese since 1938. But Kulangsu, which was an International Settlement or Treaty Port, had been spared. Then at 4 a.m. on December 8th 1941 (December 7 on the other side of the International Date Line), the Japanese Marines crossed over from Amoy, and for the next three and a half years, the 70 American, British and Dutch citizens and the nearly 80,000 Chinese on the island lived under Japanese occupation.

While my mother-in-law and her children struggled to survive the occupation, my father-in-law fought the Japanese. He was an engineer too, but unlike my dad who was self-taught, my father-in-law had a degree in engineering. He was a Kuomintang (Nationalist) officer who fought the Japanese for seven long years. In 1949, when the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, he helped arrange for some of the last boats to ferry Nationalist soldiers and their families to Taiwan. By the end of the evacuation, they were lashing small boats together like rafts to cross the Taiwan Strait.

A Few Statistics

After Pearl Harbor the United States declared war on two fronts. By 1945, 418,500 Americans were dead. More than three hundred thousand of them died in Europe; 106,000 in the Pacific Theater.

China, which had been fighting on its own soil since 1937, lost three to four million soldiers and around sixteen million civilians.

Thankfully, my future father-in-law and my own dad were among those soldiers who survived. But as the numbers above show, it was particularly dangerous to be a Chinese civilian during the war. Without adequate food, fuel, clean water and medicine, many people starved or fell ill, my husband’s baby brother among them.

My novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in southeastern China immediately before and after the events of December 7, 1941.

If you’re like many people in the world, you have some connection to Pearl Harbor. Do you have a story to share?

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The digital version of Tiger Tail Soup is currently on sale for $1.99. The paperback at $16.95 might suit someone on your Christmas gift list.

About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
China, family, Second Sino-Japanese War casualties, war, WWII in China , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Love the picture of your parents. You look like your mother. My father was considered too old to be recruited but they did the rationing. It wasn’t anything like what your in-laws were dealt. Loved your book. It gave a good perspective on aspects of the war that we weren’t aware of. I used to work with a Chinese woman who did the march through China as an infant to emigrate to Malaysia. She wouldn’t talk about it but dribs and drabs of conversation revealed that both of her parents died on that march. She was raised by her aunt. Americans really don’t know what real hard times are.

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Kate. I have been told that I look like my mom.

      My grandpa was too young for WWI and too old for WWII. He seemed to find that embarrassing, even though he wasn’t the warrior type.

      You’re exactly right. “Americans really don’t know what real hard times are.” We’re lucky. And I hope it will stay that way.

  2. Thanks for reposting!

    I think most of the world forgot how much Chinese and Korean civilians suffered during WWII, partly because of the American government’s post-war efforts to rehabilitate the image of Japan. Your statistics are a grim reminder of the reality.

    • And we can’t forget the Philippines and other SE Asian countries. My uncle fought in the Philippines, landing at Leyte. They say the the Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle of WWII or possibly of all time. Also, the Battle of Manila was horrendous. “In the month-long battle, the Americans and Japanese inflicted worse destruction on Manila than the German Luftwaffe had exacted upon London,[13] which resulted in the destruction of the city and in a death toll comparable to that of the Tokyo firebombing or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.” (Wikipedia)

      I asked someone once why Manila had so few trees. It would have been nice to have more shade. They said the trees were all destroyed during the war. The only street I remember seeing with graceful old acacia trees along the sides was a short section of McKinley Road in the suburb of Makati.

      It’s interesting how some aspects of WWII are well known by Americans and Europeans and others are nearly forgotten.

  3. You have your mom’s smile. 🙂
    Great post, Nicki. Thank you for writing on this subject!

  4. I know so many Chinese – all of whom are far too young to have experienced WWll, who ask why the USA now treats Japan (who were the aggressors) as friends, and China who were fighting on the same side (but for several years before the USA got involved) and who were the Allies, as enemies. They think America uses twisted logic.

    • I’m no historian, but my impression is that soon after the war we freaked out about Communism. It, especially Russian Communism, became enemy #1. And this went on for a long, long time. It didn’t help that both Russia and China cut themselves off from the world with their Iron Curtain and Bamboo Curtain and that Russia and then China developed the atomic bomb, which we considered a big threat. And we can’t forget that our ally during WWII was the Nationalists, not the Communists. Then there was all the craziness of The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which didn’t put China in a good light. Do young Chinese know all this history?

      I can see why the Chinese would wonder why we were so quick to forgive a country that not only was the aggressor but that fought an unbelievably savage war. I wonder too. Why do we think of Hitler as the epitome of evil and yet we can’t think of a comparable name from the Japanese command. (I just googled “WWII Japanese …,” and the first thing that came up was “internment camps.”)

      I suppose that in the beginning our relatively positive attitude toward Japan had something to do with practical reasons, i.e. keeping them contained, and maybe also to guilt about using the atomic bomb. I suspect few Americans realize, for example, that the death toll in Manila during the Battle of Manila was roughly equal to that of the bombing of Hiroshima. And, of course, the number of people killed as a result of the Japanese invasion of China is unbelievably enormous, and for some reason few Americans know much about it, at least that’s my impression.

      • It is interesting isn’t it how differently nations perceive history.

        You ask “Then there was all the craziness of The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which didn’t put China in a good light. Do young Chinese know all this history?”
        They certainly do, most of them have parents and grandparents who lived through those two horrible periods of Chinese history, and the general attitude seems to be – yes it happened, but lessons learnt, never again. The current President had a traumatic time as a teenager during the CR, it changed his views on how a country should be run. Most Chinese are now very wary of making a cult figure out of a political leader, even if they respect him.

  5. I’m so glad that you decided to share your families stories here again. I love hearing about family histories and I love how you tied in the two with the attack on Pearl Harbor, too. And yes, amazing and wonderful that both men survived the war.

    • It’s funny how some parts of a nation’s history are known by everyone, and yet, we just skip over other parts. In the US, we all know that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and we know a lot about WWII in Europe. But less is known in the US about the Japanese invasion of China and SE Asia. I didn’t know about all the other countries Japan attacked on December 7 until I started researching my novel.


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