How Pearl Harbor Inspired American Enlistment

July 25, 2017

Those living on the US mainland couldn’t actually hear the explosions of the falling bombs or the crewmen's screams that echoed throughout Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t stunned by Japan’s surprise attack. The entire nation felt the tragedy of the over 2,400 deaths that day and for many, the feeling that coursed through them wasn’t something they could easily ignore.

For thousands of young Americans, the attack on Pearl Harbor was like a calling. It filled them with rage, a need for revenge, and it pushed them to do something that would often end up putting their lives on the line.

At the age of 20, James Young—like countless other young men across the country—finished his shift at the shoe factory in the small Pennsylvania town where he worked and hitchhiked to Philadelphia, where he enlisted in the Marines to join the fight in the Pacific.

Inspiring the Nation’s Youth

WWII recruitment poster

Young recalls arriving at the recruiting station some 88 miles away from his home town and finding a long line outside the office. It was clear that American patriotism was fueled by the attack, and the men lined up to join the military weren’t going to stand down until justice for the many deaths was done.

Frustratingly for Young, he was turned away by the Navy for having three cavities, but as he left, he was approached by a Marine recruiter, who advised him that his branch was less picky. Before long, Young found himself serving as a United States Marine.

Young’s story is one that was repeated endlessly throughout the United States in the days and weeks following the attack. Though a majority of the nation had long opposed getting involved in World War II, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended the country’s policy of isolationism and most Americans changed their views on getting involved.



No Regrets

Many Americans died during the World War II, and many more sustained injuries that changed their lives forever. James Young was lucky, suffering only one injury despite the conditions he endured and battles he found himself caught up in.

Thousands of World War II veterans who, like Young, joined the service to retaliate for the attack on Pearl Harbor, may be haunted by the memories of everything they saw, all the death and blood and perils of war. But his words speak for many of his generation: “I regret none of it.”

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