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On December 7, 1941 — which President Franklin D. Roosevelt would memorably name “a date which will live in infamy” on the following day — hundreds of Japanese warplanes made a deadly surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. When the crew of the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans rushed on deck they saw devastation all around them. Not far away, a huge cloud of smoke was rising from the battleship USS Arizona and it was sinking. Beyond the Arizona, the USS Oklahoma was rolling over. Sailors were jumping from its sides.
Another nearby battleship, the USS West Virginia, was badly damaged and sagging amidships. The New Orleans was docked for repairs when the attack occurred. As usual during repairs, the ship’s electricity was temporarily coming through a power cable from the shore. Soon after they came on deck, the crew began firing the cruiser’s guns at Japanese planes. But when they needed more ammunition they discovered that the power cable to shore had been cut, making the electric ammunition hoist inoperable.
Undeterred, the men formed lines and began carrying the heavy shells to the guns by hand. As they did, ship chaplain Lieutenant Howell M. Forgy walked along the deck encouraging them, shouting “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” The Japanese pilots eventually flew away after sinking nine U.S. ships and damaging 21 others. Their attack killed 2,350 Americans, including 1,177 sailors on the USS Arizona.