Pearl Harbor Memorabilia
by Jeff Figler
With the anniversary of the “Day of Infamy,” the attack on Pearl Harbor, upon us, collectors of historical items might be surprised at the lack of relics that exist from that memorable day, December 7, 1941. Of course, there is a plethora of World War II memorabilia, but indeed a scarcity from the day of the fateful attack over Hawaii itself.
But first a bit about the day and the events leading up to it.
“At seven-thirty in the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the United States being at peace with all nations, a flight of Japanese airplanes descended without warning on the island of Oahu, Hawaii… killing several thousand United States soldiers, sailors, and marines. A deed which will live in infamy…”
Those words, spoken by President Franklin Roosevelt alarmed most Americans that the danger and horror of another world war was soon to include them. What had been occurring in Europe the past few years had not directly affected many Americans, until now.
But the attack on Pearl Harbor did. World War I, the “war to end war,” had barely ended, and now the world was at war again.
The winds of war had been swirling. Tension between the United States and Japan had been increasing, particularly since the Japanese invasion of the Manchuria in 1931. Throughout the 1930s Japan kept expanding its base in China. Finally, war between the two countries erupted in 1937, with Japan’s objective being to achieve resource independence. Western countries, including the United States, England, and France became increasingly concerned with the Japanese actions, prompting them to provide loan assistance to the Republic of China. Japan then proceeded to invade French Indochina in an attempt to restrict supplies from reaching China. The United States stopped shipments of aviation gasoline, machine tools, airplanes, and other vital military items to Japan, considered to be unfriendly actions against the Japanese. The U.S. stopped short of cutting off oil exports. That changed early in 1941, after Japan expanded into French Indochina. In August 1941, President Roosevelt warned Japan that the U.S. would take whatever steps necessary against Japan if it proceeded to attack “neighboring countries.” Japan and the U.S. attempted to negotiate in 1941 to improve relations, but to many, it seemed that the Japanese were merely stalling for time. During the summer and fall of 1941, the Japanese prepared for what seemed imminent to many.
Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. The attack was meant to deliver a blow to American morale, as well as to destroy vital American fleet units before they could prevent additional Japanese conquests.
The Second World War would last until 1945. Millions perished in the war, and the world’s culture would be forever changed. In the end, democracy prevailed, but only after a tremendous cost of human life.
It is now well over seventy years since that infamous December 1941 day, but the day still stirs emotions to many, alive at the time or not. In fact, Pearl Harbor survivors decline every year, and unfortunately, so do their tales about what they experienced that day. Most people only know about Pearl Harbor through what they read in history books or see in movies such as “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
There are not too many Pearl Harbor items that exist for collectors. But if you are lucky and wealthy, you might be able to latch on to a Pearl Harbor relic from that day.
Here is a quick rundown of a few of the remaining Pearl Harbor items. A log entry of the USS Antares signed by six officers of the store’s issue ship, sold for $8,365. This log details the events of the morning and serves as one of the few remaining live descriptions of what transpired. The log entry is a real gem from the attack day itself.
One relic from the bombing that was sold in December 2012 is a piece of a Japanese aircraft that was shot down. The nearly six-by-nine inch piece of red and silver aircraft fabric sold for just under $3,000.
However, being a book collector as I am, my favorite Pearl Harbor piece is a very expensive one. An FDR-signed “Christmas Book” was auctioned for over $11,000. This signed “Christmas Book,” issued by the White House in 1942, began with Roosevelt’s formal address on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Approximately barely a hundred copies of the “Christmas Book” were issued, but an autographed copy is held in high esteem by collectors.
A photograph of the Battleship USS Tennessee and USS West Virginia with billowing smoke can be bought affordably also.
Each year approximately two million visitors from around the world visit Pearl Harbor to view the area and pay their respects. While there, a movie narrated by Stockard Channing is a definite must-see. Thanks to donations, especially by Elvis Presley, the area has been greatly restored, and can now be appreciated by people from across the world.
As the years go by fewer people can remember the tragic events of December 7, 1941. But thanks in part to various collectible items, the memory of the “Day of Infamy” will never be forgotten.
Even though there are not many collectibles from that tragic day, collectors of Pearl Harbor items usually hold special memories of that December day. To most collectors, their relics bring back thoughts of loved ones whose lives were touched and affected by the surprise attack over the tiny island of Oahu, Hawaii.
Jeff Figler has authored more than 600 published articles about collecting. He is one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles and is a former sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/STL Today, and San Diego Union Tribune. Jeff’s most recent book is Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia published by Krause Publications. You can learn more about Jeff by visiting his website www.collectingwithjeff.com. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.