Remembering Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941.

The Anniversary of America’s entry into WWII.

Remember. A great deal has changed in geopolitics and world history in the last three-quarters of a century. Old enemies became friends and alliances have come and gone. But we at Browning think it is still important to periodically reflect on the sacrifices made by those who gave much, and even all, to ensure the freedoms we have today. And few examples are more poignant that the events at Pearl Harbor nearly 80 years ago. 

America Goes to War. In the long march of world history, the most profound event of the 20th Century would have to be the Second World War. It was WWII that reshaped the global landscape in politics, social, economics, and technology and laid the foundations for the world in which we live today. While the multiple regional conflicts that evolved in the second global war of the 20th Century began in the 1930s, it is December 7, 1941, that marks the turning point in America’s direct participation. We honor and revere the brave men and women of "The Greatest Generation" who rose to the challenge of those times. Below is a brief historical overview along with a few highlighted historical connections related to John Browning and his contributions to the war effort.

Remember December 7th poster.
The USS Shaw erupts in a massive fireball during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The USS Shaw erupts in a massive fireball during the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Early on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii. Near simultaneous attacks were also conducted against US and British military bases throughout the Pacific. 

Battleship USS Arizona ablaze and sinking, during the attack at Pearl Harbor.

Hit four times by bombs, the battleship USS Arizona lists, ablaze and sinking, during the attack at Pearl Harbor. Almost 1,200 of her crew perished that December morning.


National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

A GREAT TRIBUTE FROM THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY --  2016 was the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Retired Navy Adm. Thomas B. Fargo lead a Blue Ribbon Committee to prepare for the commemoration in Hawaii and had these fitting comments.

"Forever a symbol of American resilience and resolve to defend freedom, the annual commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor fosters reflection, remembrance and understanding.  The 75th anniversary stands out as significant, a poignant transition from honoring surviving WWII veterans, our ‘Greatest Generation,’ to thanking those who have followed in their footsteps.

“As we look to the future, we each have an opportunity and a personal responsibility to invest in and commit to inspiring the leaders of tomorrow, using history to help empower choices that negate fateful outcomes,” 

You can listen to the actual radio news bulletin broadcast on December 7, 1941 reporting the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Manila here (this page is not afiliated with Browning in any way):

While the critically important US aircraft carriers fortunately were not in port at the time of the dawn attack, numerous US battleships and other smaller ships were severely damaged or destroyed, including the battleship USS Arizona. Loss of life in the Pearl Harbor raid alone totaled nearly 2,500 US military personnel, plus many civilian casualties in the surrounding areas.

CPO John Finn, Medal of Honor winner at Pearl Harbor.

CPO John Finn, Medal of Honor winner at Pearl Harbor.


While caught unawares, US military forces quickly rallied to the defense. Countless John M. Browning-designed firearms were brought to bear against the attackers and incredible acts of valor on the ground, in the air and afloat became the norm that December morning.

Winning the Medal of Honor that day was US Navy CPO John Finn. During the attack on the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, Finn pulled a Browning .50 caliber machine gun off a burning aircraft, mounted it on a portable instruction stand and, although wounded and completely exposed, gave the attacking enemy as much ballistic hell as he could muster. 

Finn’s Medal of Honor citation reads in part: “For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty…Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy's fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention.”

The Hero of Pearl Harbor — Dorie Miller

Ship’s Cook Third Class Doris Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions that December morning in 1941. His award citation reads, “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety…in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun…until ordered to leave the bridge.”

An African American sailor named Doris “Dorie” Miller was gathering laundry when his ship, the USS West Virginia came under Japanese bomb and torpedo attack.

Miller rushed to his battle station, only to discover it had been destroyed by a torpedo strike. Miller quickly went topside to assist with the injured, including tending to the ship’s mortally wounded CO, Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion.

Miller manned a water-cooled .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun and began hammering away at the attacking enemy aircraft until he had expended the gun’s supply of ammo.

Miller had never been trained on or fired the big Browning. “It wasn’t hard,” said Miller shortly after the battle. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

Lt. Ken Taylor and Lt. George Welch.

Lt. Ken Taylor and Lt. George Welch. USAF photo.


A pair of Army Air Corps pilots also got in their licks on the attackers. Lt. George S. Welch and Lt. Kenneth Taylor had spent the night of December 6th at a dance, followed by a marathon all-night poker session. Hearing distant gunfire and explosions in the breaking dawn, the two lieutenants phoned ahead to Haleiwa Airfield to have their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters fully armed, fueled and ready for action. 

The American Curtiss P-40 fighter was equipped with six .50 caliber Browning machine gun.

The American Curtiss P-40 fighter was equipped with six .50 caliber Browning machine guns, three in each wing. The plane had seen action in China with the Flying Tigers, an American volunteer outfit, which popularized the “shark mouth” motif.


Once aloft the aggressive pair of Army pilots shot down several Japanese planes before returning to their airfield for more fuel and ammunition. By then one of Welch’s guns had jammed and Taylor had been wounded in the arm and leg but they again took off in search of the attackers.

Welch and Taylor were among five Army Air Corps pilots who were able to get aloft to meet the enemy that December morning. The intrepid duo accounted for seven of the 29 total attacking aircraft downed by US forces that day. 

The American Curtiss P-40 fighter was equipped with six .50 caliber Browning machine guns, three in each wing.

US public outrage and political reaction to the surprise attacks was both swift and certain. The following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a joint session of the US Congress, asking for and receiving a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. Shortly thereafter Nazi Germany declared war in the United States and America instantly found herself facing threats in both Europe and the Pacific.

You can hear FRD’s address to Congress here.

America’s direct involvement in WWII began early on that Sunday morning in December 1941 and would continue through the following years, culminating in the formal surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, followed the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945.

In the coming months we’ll post a series of historical articles on how John M. Browning-designed military firearms were used in some of the pivotal moments of this epic global struggle that reshaped the second half of the 20th Century and still echo today in our modern world.

We hope you’ll find them interesting and educational.

Browning is proud of the great contributions made by John Moses Browning -- and the company he created -- in preserving freedom for America and the world.  Below is a partial list of the firearms he designed which were used by the U.S. military. In various forms, many are still in use today.  Several of these were designed specifically under urgent request from the U.S. government to meet a critical need. John Browning and his son Val (and other family members and company staff) regularly assisted in the industrialization and testing in order to expedite filling the requirements of the U.S. and its allies. Although John Browning passed away 16 years before the U.S. entry into World War II his influence continued to be felt and appreciated. 

  • Winchester 1897 (World War I primarily)
  • FN M1900 (it is reported that Theodore Roosevelt kept one of these close at hand in the White House)
  • Automatic 5 (although not usually consider an official U.S. military firearm, it had a way of showing up in nearly every U.S. war and conflict from the early 1900s through the Vietnam war)
  • U.S. M1911
  • FN G.P. 35 Hi Power
  • Colt M1895
  • U.S. M1918 BAR
  • U.S. M1917/M1919
  • U.S. M2 Heavy Machine Gun
  • Colt / Browning 37mm 
  • Many others may have been used informally

A fairly complete listing of all of his inventions and patents is found on Wikipedia.

John Browning firing his 50 caliber M2 machine gun during prototype testing.

John Browning firing his 50 caliber M2 machine gun during prototype testing.  Designed at the end of World War I in 1918 and put into official service in 1933. 


 M2 machine gun during live-fire training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Sept. 15, 2016.

The M2 Browning continues in service to this day as shown in this recent image from the DOD media website.  The image is captioned: "Soldiers prepare to load .50-caliber ammunition into an M2 machine gun during live-fire training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Sept. 15, 2016."


Franklin Delano Roosevelt  -- Pearl Harbor Speech December 8 1941To the Congress of the United States.

Yesterday, Dec. 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.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that 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.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Article copyright Browning November 2016. Photos are in the public domain, DOD images or used with permission. Written by Browning staff writer, Scott Engen.