New National Archives Video Short Gives Fresh Look at Pearl Harbor Attack
Press Release · Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Washington, DC

Seventy years ago the people of the United States were stunned by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, and the country was now embroiled in World War II.

The story of what FDR called “a date which will live in infamy” has been told many times in print and on film. A new “Inside the Vaults” video short “Pearl Harbor: In Their Own Words” (2:42) from the National Archives highlights a source that chronicles the events of December 7, 1941, from the point of view of the men on board the ships in the harbor. Watch the video on the National Archives YouTube channel.

National Archives employees Lopez Matthews, and Eliza Mbughuni describe the firsthand accounts in U.S. Navy deck logs. The logs—created as routine administrative documents—give modern readers a sense of the shock, surprise, and confusion felt by the soldiers and sailors who experienced this pivotal moment in American history.


The logs depict a mundane Sunday morning at the beginning of the day: The USS Cummings noted, “Moored as before. 0400 Received the following fresh provisions for use in the General Mess: from Dairymen’s Association, Ltd., 15 gallons of milk, 7 gallons of ice cream.”

A few lines below, the Cummings’s log records “0758 Air Raid. Japanese planes commenced torpedo attack on battleships in Pearl Harbor. Sounded General Quarters.”

The deck logs capture elements of the shock and confusion brought by the Japanese attack. They chronicle counter-attacks, casualties and damage to vessels, rescue attempts, and false reports of invasion forces.

These original records, created on the spot, give us a fresh look at a familiar event in American history.

Excerpts from several deck logs are being published in an article in the Winter issue of Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. View the article online. []

Background on “Inside the Vaults”

“Inside the Vaults” is part of the ongoing effort by the National Archives to make its collections, stories, and accomplishments more accessible to the public. “Inside the Vaults” gives voice to Archives staff and users, highlights new and exciting finds at the Archives, and reports on complicated and technical subjects in easily understandable presentations. Earlier topics include the conservation of the original Declaration of Independence and 1297 Magna Carta, the new Grace Tully collection of documents at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, the transfer to the National Archives of the Nuremberg Laws, the creation of Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and the launch of a new National Archives user-friendly search engine. The film series is free to view and distribute on our YouTube channel.

Created by a former broadcast network news producer, the "Inside the Vaults" video shorts series presents “behind the scenes” exclusives and offer surprising glimpses of the National Archives treasures. These videos are in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages the free distribution of them.

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-357-5300.

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