“Yesterday, December 7th, 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.” These were the words Americans heard ring out through the radio on December 8th as President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a stunned nation and called for Congress’s declaration of war.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is roughly 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland and is near the center of the Pacific Ocean. Being close to home, the harbor had light defenses and almost all of the Pacific Fleet was moored with substantial airplanes on the adjacent airfields. The intelligence outlook was that Pearl Harbor was safe inside U.S. territorial waters. This was driven by the belief that should the Empire of Japan attack, they would seek easier targets. Sunday, December 7, at 8 am was a pivotal point in future US military command and military strategy.
Sheridan County was right in the war from the very beginning. Alexander Piasecki of Acme, Wyoming was a member of the Marine detachment aboard the battleship USS Arizona. At 7:55 am on December 7 her air raid alarm sounded and sSoon after the call to general quarters, or battle stations, rang out. A Gun Captain, CPL Piasecki, was likely moving rapidly to man his defense of the ship as she took hits from attacking planes. At 8:06 am a torpedo hit the Arizona’s magazine, blowing her into the air and rolling her.
Herman Schmidt, a Sheridan resident and Gunner’s Mate Third Class, was stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma. Moored in berth Fox 5 she was immediately targeted by attacking aircraft. The first and second torpedoes hit her around 7:56 am. They blew away a large section of the Oklahoma’s anti-torpedo bulge but didn’t penetrate the hull. Responding to the attack an estimated 80 men scrambled to the AA guns on deck but were unable to use them because the firing locks were in the armory. Most of her men continued to man battle stations below the ship’s waterline or took shelter in the third deck, protocol during an aerial attack. In less than twelve minutes she rolled over until her masts touched the bottom.
The memory of Pearl Harbor has had a resounding impact on Americans through the generations. This attack, so close to home, led to one of the greatest bonding moments of a nation. The very actions taken at Pearl Harbor demonstrate one of the main aspects of the American, and western, spirit- fighting even when you’re down and out. Even though it would take years we would win the war.
Both Alexander and Herman are listed as Killed in Action. It is unknown if Alexander was entombed dead or alive on the Arizona. Many of his fellow sailors and marines continue to rest together to this day.
To learn more about Sheridan in World War II come see the museum’s newest exhibit, Sheridan on the Frontlines.